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Cooper President Engages Critics in Impromptu Exchange

Jamshed Bharucha speaks with students in his office for the first time since last week's occupation. (image via Instagram user pleasedontfront)
Jamshed Bharucha speaks with students in his office for the first time since last week’s occupation. (image via Instagram user pleasedontfront)

Last night, at a little before 11 pm EST, Cooper Union president Jamshed Bharucha spontaneously ended a community forum he was holding in the Great Hall of the Foundation Building and ascended to his seventh floor office to face his critics for the first time. The result was a rather long and uninspiring chat punctuated by raucous and disruptive moments of commentary by many long-silent insiders, including untenured faculty, administrators, and engineering students.

The video feed of the event, which is archived on USTREAM, often failed to capture Bharucha’s rather softspoken voice, but is nonetheless a significant recording that reveals both the uncomfortable divide between the administration and the occupiers and the growing candor of Cooper Union’s internal critics.

At the beginning of the session, outgoing alumni trustee Don Blauweiss attempted to level with students by painting himself as some sort of erstwhile radical, perhaps even a forebear in their grand activist tradition: “I’ve done my fair share of protesting in the ’50s and ’60s…” And just as the sun set on the ebullient promise of those decades, so too has Don’s alleged picketing given way to prolific pitchmanship; per his corporate bio Blauweiss has spent the last “30 years … developing and supervising marketing communications for clients such as Mercedes Benz, Proctor & Gamble, General Foods…”

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Bharucha takes a student question in a screen capture of streaming footage from last night’s discussion. (click through to footage)

It’s perhaps of little surprise, then, to learn that Blauweiss’s attempts at inaugurating a false collegiality were interrupted by one student’s remarking “That’s condescending,” followed by an outpouring of applause. At least from the perspective of the occupying students, this trend of condescension shot through the main act itself: Jamshed Bharucha reacted to one tenured professor’s impassioned diatribe with a simple “That’s very inspiring, Bobby,” while deftly directing blame for his absence from that very space over the previous week to his secretary, Gloria, who allegedly hurt her arm in the initial phase of the occupation and told him not to come.

Bharucha further alleged that TC Westcott, Cooper Union’s Vice President of Finance and Administration, was responsible for the armed private guards previously installed in the building. He additionally claimed that board secretary Lawrence Cacciatore was responsible for the brief police presence last Wednesday, as he had reportedly called 911 and alleged that a student had shoved him. Curiously enough, students within Bharucha’s office have reported to Hyperallergic that at the time of the occupation, a book called Reputation Rules, on corporate PR and crisis management, was found on Cacciatore’s desk. Among other relatively unremarkable pronouncements, Bharucha clarified the pronunciation of his last name: “Bharucha, as in ‘cha-cha-cha.'” The joke fell flat.

In one of the highlight outbursts of the exchange, School of Art Dean Saskia Bos interrupted Bharucha’s comments regarding the inclusivity of his administration’s decision-making process: “We’re actually not involved at all,” she said to extended applause. This candor revealed what Casey Gollan, a senior in the School of Art and a student activist, characterizes as the failure of Jamshed Bharucha’s doctrine of “responsibility centered management,” a theory of management with adherents throughout the education and not-for-profit sectors.

“In theory it’s a system that’s supposed to empower the people closest to the day-to-day life of the institution, but in actuality it allows the high-level administrators to deflect responsibility,” Gollan said.

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