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BREAKING: Students Occupy Office of Cooper Union President [UPDATE 5]

by Mostafa Heddaya on May 8, 2013

Students occupy offices of Cooper president Jamshed Bharucha (image via Facebook)

Students occupy offices of Cooper president Jamshed Bharucha (image via Facebook)

At roughly 11 am today, a group of 30 students occupied the offices of embattled Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha. Bharucha himself is not present, however, and unlike the previous occupation, the students have not barricaded themselves in and are being allowed to freely enter and exit the building. Black banners signifying the takeover have also been unfurled from the second floor windows of the Foundation Building.

The student occupation, planned at least one week in advance, coincided with the end of a scheduled 9:30 meeting between student leaders, board chair Mark Epstein, and Bharucha, though the president did not show up to that meeting. When roughly 30 student activists, chiefly from the School of Art but with representation from all three schools, took the corner office on the seventh floor of the Foundation Building, Vice President for Finance and Administration TC Westcott came in, listened to and acknowledged the student statement, and left.

As of 12:40 pm, there are at least 60 students in Mr. Bharucha’s office, and Hyperallergic has learned that at least one faculty member, Lisa Lawley, briefly joined the students, as have several staff members. The students have been advised that they are free to come and go, and some are discussing bringing in sleeping bags. The students are also delivering a vote of no confidence, though student activist Casey Gollan, a senior in the art school, tells Hyperallergic that it isn’t a full vote of the student body, but rather “a symbolic gesture on a sheet of paper from a group of students that makes a meaningful statement.”

Black banners have been unfurled from the second floor of the Foundation Building

Black banners have been unfurled from the second floor of the Foundation Building (image courtesy Tyler Paige)

Asked to describe the goals of the occupying students, Gollan stated that “ultimately the action is about showing no confidence in the president. A lot of variables go into something like this — yesterday we had a meeting and for everyone in the room success was a bit different, so holding his office is already a successful action.”

The student statement, as released via email by Free Cooper Union, is reproduced below, and we will update this story as the situation develops.

This is a non-violent direct action, you are not being held in this room, you are free to exit when you please. Jamshed Bharucha, we are here today to deliver you a statement of No Confidence from the School of Art, we no longer recognize your presidency at Cooper as legitimate and in so doing we commit to re-claim this office in the interim until a suitable administrative alternative is secured.

UPDATE 1 (1:30 pm EST): Casey Gollan writes in that several faculty members have just signed the above statement: Lisa Lawley, Walid Raad, and Dennis Adams.

UPDATE 2 (2:00 pm EST): According to Free Cooper Union, at least 50% of School of Art students have signed the vote of no confidence.

UPDATE 3 (4:00 pm EST): Occupying students are presently meeting, so if you’re into voyeuristic activism (or activism voyeurism), peep their USTREAM feed.

UPDATE 4 (4:43 pm EST): School of Art professoriat initiates vote of no confidence in Professor Jamshed Bharucha, presumably following the lead set by Lisa Lawley, Walid Raad, and Dennis Adams, as reported above.

UPDATE 5 (5:07 pm EST, 5/9): Dean of Students informs occupiers they are trespassing, threatens them with judicial action while acknowledging her lack of confidence in Bharucha’s regime: “no I do not… I hate their decision.” Furthermore, occupiers have been given a one-hour departure ultimatum, after which they will be subject to disciplinary action, and will cease to have access to restroom facilities and outside supplies.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matthewwlangley Matthew Langley

    I’ve been trying to find something meaningful from all of the Cooper Union stories for the last few months, and honestly the only thing that keeps coming back to me is that students are unhappy about paying for school. I get that point, but I also see that every other school in the US (for the most part) has students who pay (as well as some on scholarships).

    I’m no doubt sure that there are people who believe that they could have managed Cooper Unions finances better than the current administration, whether this is true or not we will never know.

    Moving forward Cooper Union will cost +/- $20,000. That is still a bargain compared to all of the other top tier art schools and colleges in the city. There are other, far cheaper options outside of New York City. It’s not like the student body does not have choices.

    Is there a bigger picture here, or is this all this is about.

    • http://twitter.com/Ausfaller Sigmund Ausfaller

      Yes, there is a bigger picture. Looking at it as merely “entitled kids want to go on being entitled” is exactly the atomized, disconnected way that the powers that be would like you to interpret this. You are in fact blaming the victims.

      In many European countries, _all_ higher education is completely free to students. In this country, there is almost no such thing. Cooper Union was one of the only opportunities for students of all backgrounds, selected purely on merit, to be educated together at a top-tier institution that did not saddle them with debt.

      Rather than questioning the Cooper students, maybe you should be questioning the American system of higher education, which has become more and more difficult for working- and middle-class students to access and afford for decades.

      Your approach to this reminds me of people attacking government workers for having pensions and other reasonable benefits… which many private sector employees used to have. The question is not “why do public sector workers have a better deal?” — it’s “why have the employees of private firms gotten stiffed over the past generation?”

      We’re living in a society where plutocratic elites enrich themselves with casino speculation, and suffer no consequences for their recklessness — in fact, they always give themselves a pat on the back and a golden parachute. Meanwhile, they’re impoverishing the rest of us. The Cooper situation is only the latest example. Congratulations on missing the point.

      • http://www.facebook.com/matthewwlangley Matthew Langley

        Sigmund:
        Thank you for your non-judgemental reaction. I am not interested in blaming the victims.

        We do not live in “Many European Countries”, we live somewhere else, that place is the United States. The argument that other cultures do this, ergo so should we, is beyond foolish. Further it speaks to an approach that is able to be skewed by the speaker in ways that benefit mostly the speaker, is simple and not without meriting a healthy bit of cynicism.

        As far as questioning the educational system of the United States versus the Cooper Students, I have not done this, nor have you.

        I am more than aware of the cost of higher education for middle income and lower income families. I am saddened by people leaving the university system (as well as failed marriages, poor home buying decisions, etc) with debt, it’s crippling to everyone.

        One last thing. Private universities in “Many European Countries” are not free. Last time I checked, The Cooper Union was a private university.

        • http://twitter.com/Ausfaller Sigmund Ausfaller

          “The argument that other cultures do this, ergo so should we, is beyond foolish.”

          And the argument that all American schools must require tuition simply because “we live somewhere else, that place is the United States” is a compelling one?

          The point is that alternatives are possible. Cooper has been a rare exception to the US model. Isn’t it worth preserving at least a few such exceptions to the commoditized, money-poisoned mess that makes up most of American academia these days?

          Precisely because it is such a rarity, IMO, its preservation as an exemplar of possibilities is all the more important.

      • thom thom

        Those European countries with free academies have plenty of problems as well. They aren’t the utopias you imagine. For example, only the best of the best can go to the school. The rest train as hairdressers, butchers, etc… They aren’t allowed in. Also these European free academies don’t go under if nobody wants to enroll. As your options, you have only one or two schools to apply to. Quality of education is hit hard by this fact. There is very little competition among between schools and therefore little to no incentive for improvement.

        Of course there are fantastic students and professors at many free European schools. We tend to see only the best of the best from over here however. The fact is, many of these free European schools are fundamentally broken from the bottom up and produce hoards of uneducated, unemployable, hopeless young people.

        This isn’t an argument against free education. But don’t support your statements by painting a picture of an ideal education system across the water. That place doesn’t exist.

        • http://twitter.com/Ausfaller Sigmund Ausfaller

          I’m not idealizing Europe. I know there is explicit class stratification in its educational system (as opposed to the American class stratification that we often pretend doesn’t exist, and which leaves many people with little or no schooling or training of any kind). I’m simply pointing out, in response to Matthew, that not all American schools need to conform to the typical American model.
          More relevant to this particular case: Cooper Union was founded on the vision of free tuition, with an endowment expressly intended to preserve this system. It’s a colossal failure on the part of current and recent leadership that they appear to have destroyed its foundational model.

          • thom thom

            I wouldn’t argue with that.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Matthew, I think the issue is also the administration’s mismanagement and lack of transparency about the process. I fully support a student’s ability to get a quality college education without crippling debt, but now Cooper Union is hoping to join the herd that will force students to be burdened by heavy loan payments post-school. Understandably, students are angry, and the dysfunction at Cooper (which did a lot of stupid things) should have repercussions. The board doesn’t seem capable of doing their job well, and they should probably be fired.

      • http://twitter.com/Ausfaller Sigmund Ausfaller

        Yes. The administration were appointed to be the caretakers of a legacy — a legacy which previous administrations have successfully stewarded for a century and a half, and which the current leadership was supposed to hand off intact to their successors. They squandered that legacy… and they seem to be dealing with their own failures in an autocratic, nontransparent way, and asking the students to pay the price.

      • http://www.facebook.com/matthewwlangley Matthew Langley

        Hrag:

        (BTW – hope all is well) I don’t disagree that the administration seems to have mismanaged the endowment – I fully believe that they have. But I have no way of really knowing this. Neither do the students, nor unfortunately are they entitled to have the transparency that they so desire.

        I’m in total agreement about the amount of debt coming from student loans – it’s a huge plague to this country, and our country’s economy on the whole.

        I also believe that the board should be terminated and rebuilt. Along with a serious approach to rebuilding the endowment.

        • http://www.facebook.com/john.t.a.miller John T A Miller

          actually, alumni are entitled to that information according to the Cooper Union Charter:

          § 10. The Trustees of the Corporation hereby created shall, in the month of January, render an annual account, under oath, of all their receipts and expenditures, to the Common Council of the City of New York, “The Associates of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art,” (aka alumni) and to the Legislature of the State.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.t.a.miller John T A Miller

      Matthew: one thing that you should understand is that the tuition increase does not impact any of these students. All of the current students have been guaranteed full tuition through their own graduation. They are protesting on behalf of future students.

      • http://www.facebook.com/matthewwlangley Matthew Langley

        John:
        Thanks for the info, I have not really seen that mentioned. It’s good to know.

        • http://www.facebook.com/john.t.a.miller John T A Miller

          “…the Board of Trustees voted last week to reduce the full-tuition scholarship to 50% for all undergraduates admitted to The Cooper Union beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2014.”

          Announced on 23 April 2013, so “last week” was at some point during the week of the 15th. They had previously announced that all current students and students entering during the fall of 2013 will continue to be given full scholarships.

          FYI, that was something that changed in the early 00s, I believe. When I attended Cooper (BE ’97, ME ’99), it was free. Zero tuition. They changed it to be tuition with every student guaranteed a full scholarship.

          • thom thom

            That blows. So those students turned down other schools and now they can either pay or not go to college?

  • John Tomlinson

    I have read all the cogent comments and arguments. All I can add, as an Art 1970 alumnus, is that in 1966, when there was a first-rate evening school, I had a job as a guard at MoMA and even with that income and low rents on the Lower East Side, I could not have attended this unique art school and continue on to the day school for a BFA without free tuition. That Cooper Union education gave me a life as an artist (43 years) and an art instructor at Parsons School of Design Fine Arts (25 years) and the National Academy of Design (8 years) and the directorship of the New York Studio Residency Program (21 years), all since 1970. I feel truly fortunate and want future artists to be so fortunate.

  • thom thom

    The students have no power. Won’t they graduate? Will they come back and protest after graduation and fight to protect some cultural heritage? I doubt it. School experiences in the US are transitory at best. It isn’t the academy of old that was part of a wider community. It’s an independent entity. Free or not, this school is a money making machine. You take your education, then leave. If that is how it is, there is no leverage.

  • http://twitter.com/lexiconstable Alex Cacioppo

    Richard Haass was going to speak last night but the event got canceled, and administrators blamed the sit-in. Wonder why he could not speak outside. It was nice out.

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