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Cooper Union Students React to Drastic Tuition Increase

by Mostafa Heddaya on April 23, 2013

A group of Cooper Union students holds vigil earlier tonight, in the wake of an announced tuition hike at the formerly free institution (All images by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

A group of Cooper Union students holds vigil earlier tonight, in the wake of an announced tuition hike at the formerly free institution (All images by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

Cooper Union is not reeling in the wake of today’s historic board announcement, but it is hurting. The beleaguered institution’s decision to scrap its founder’s vision for free education was a long time coming, borne on the back of a boom-time cupidity that has crippled many university endowments.

This evening, Hyperallergic sought to get a feel for the student reaction and the way forward, first at a 6pm School of Art Senior Show on the second floor of the Foundation Building, then at 7:45 in Cooper Square, where a candlelight vigil was held in protest of the day’s events. The mood at the former event was celebratory — it was, after all, a senior art show — and students took a break from appreciating the work of their classmates to give the brief reactions listed below. Note that nearly all students declined to be individually photographed.

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Specially-made “trustee matchbooks” used to light the candles at tonight’s vigil (Image via @FreeCooperUnion) (click to enlarge)

At the candlelight vigil, attended by a crowd no greater than one hundred, some students distributed leaflets bearing quotations from Peter Cooper on the founding ethos of his college, while others lit candles with specially-made “trustee matchbooks” — a protest symbol at once sardonic and functional. Attendees took turns reading from the Cooper leaflets, and Casey Gollan, 21, read selections from Cindy Milstein’s “Organizing As if Social Relations Matter.”

When we caught up with Gollan later, he emphasized that the assembled group’s repudiation of the board’s decision represents a new chapter in their activism, “It’s a little depressing, but I’m calling it Day One. Because up until this point we’ve been free education against ‘no comment,’ and today we’re free education against 50% tuition. Which is actually higher than some state schools and SUNY.” Our conversation was then momentarily interrupted by a passer-by, who shouted: “Don’t go to art school!”

*   *   *

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Casey Gollan (left) reads Cindy Milstein’s “Organizing As if Social Relations Matter” from his phone

Cooper Union students speak to Hyperallergic: What’s your reaction to the Board’s tuition announcement? How would this have affected your decision to come to Cooper Union?

DeVonn Francis, 20, member of Arts Student Council

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DeVonn Francis

My main reaction is a bit of disbelief, a bit of shock, definitely feel as if, in the moment, the institution — insofar as rectifying its financial dire straights — has seen a a cop-out on behalf of the Board of Trustees. At the same time I don’t think free tuition for the posterity of our school is over. There are a lot of more things we can do, a lot more avenues we have not have previously had the time to take, and I look forward to seeing what solutions we come up with in the future.

The saving grace of this institution and where it stands are the students that go here and the faculty that give over their time and energy into making us better individuals. Granted, now that we have cut the scholarship by 50% … I’d probably be in-state in Virginia. It’s hard to place it otherwise, it’s complicated there are a lot of things that need to be improved in this institution, the only thing that is constant, the saving grace is the relationship that I have with my faculty, the people that push me to make the work that I make.

Maren Karlson, 24, Exchange Student

I’m from Europe, and in Germany all schools are free, so I feel like this is the only school that’s kind of similar. It’s really sad. It’s weird to me, I would never have been able to go to art school if I had to pay like here in America.

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Jose Figueroa, 26

We’ve been fighting against this for a year now, I’m trying to be very positive about this change. There’s something about the student body and the professors combined with the mission makes such an amazing diversity. Our concern is that this will change after they made this decision, it changes the ground rules of what this institution represents. I couldn’t have come here under these new rules, the fact that it is free makes it or breaks it, it highlights the fact that this is a merit-based scholarship.

Henderson Peternell, 21

If I hadn’t gotten in to Cooper Union I wouldn’t be in college. I think it’s the same for everybody, people often choose to go to college anyway and it sucks — it’s a real blessing to be here. It seems like no matter what the faculty thinks, whatever the student body thinks, the board will do whatever it wants. You feel totally powerless. It’s funny that there’s such an institution that’s so progressive in one way and so regressive in another way. It’s painful, really, for that to be the case. It seems like the same people running this school are the same people that ruined the economy, it’s the same group of shitty, money-sucking fuckers.

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Lucas Chao, 19

I can say what my professor David Gersten said, “The board broke a promise today, a promise to uphold the mission statement to provide education regardless of socioeconomic background.” I think it’s a shame that because of mismanagement and a lack of understanding what really holds up this school that the Cooper Union as a model for education in America and the world should have to suffer …

Off-the-record student, 23

I’m just zonked, I don’t know what to say … It fucking sucks. To be frank everyone is exhausted. Or at least I feel that way.

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  • http://twitter.com/WileyWillis Dave Willis

    Its truly sad to see the only free, quality college (that I know of, in America) give up on the ideal of free education, but if the school ran out of funding, don’t blame the poor trustees, who probably feel as awful as anyone about this. The blame lies with our ridiculous education policy, which treats education like a commodity instead of a human right.

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