Following years of upheaval at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the New York City college announced yesterday that its board of trustees, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU) would end the litigation over the decision to begin charging students tuition. The agreement settles the lawsuit filed last year by CSCU, an alliance of students, faculty, and alumni which claimed that the financial plan adopted by the board in 2013 violated the college’s charter. It could also return the school—comprising 1,000 students in art, architecture, and engineering—to its tradition of offering free tuition.
The agreement, which must be approved by the New York State Supreme Court, establishes a "Free Education Committee" comprising student and alumni trustees tasked with developing a strategic plan aimed at returning the Cooper Union to the full-tuition scholarship model established by its founder Peter Cooper in 1859. The plan will be presented in January 2018, and the board will vote on it in March 2018. The Cooper Union said in a press release that it is uncertain if or when the school could return to its traditional tuition model because the school "has experienced decades of substantial operating deficits caused by a consistent pattern of cost increases that exceed the growth of its revenues."
The agreement also increases the involvement of students, alumni, faculty, and staff in the school’s board and allows Schneiderman to designate an independent monitor to review and report on the college’s fiscal operations and long-term strategic planning. This past June, Cooper Union president Jamshed Bharucha and five members of the college’s board announced their resignations amid a state investigation of the school’s finances prompted by concerns regarding the management of the school's prime asset—the land under the Chrysler Building—and a $175 million loan used to fund a new engineering building.
According to The New York Times, the Cooper Union faces an annual operating deficit of $10 million, making the restoration of free tuition difficult to reinstate without significant increases in the school's endowment and revenue.
Caroline Massie is an assistant editor of business, products, and technology at ARCHITECT. Follow her on Twitter at @caroline_massie.