Purpose of the Committee/Meeting
To create, through small meetings held on a regular basis, a direct line of communication between student representatives from all three schools and the Chair and Vice Chair of Cooper’s Board.
Present: Mark Epstein, Francois de Menil, Jamshed Bharucha, Lawrence Cacciatore, Casey Gollan (Art Student Council), Rachel Appel (Art Student Council), Mauricio Higuera (Student in School of Art), Che Perez (Architecture Student Council), Kristof Toth (Engineering Student Council)
Before our first meeting I collected some topics to discuss and asked a few people if they had questions I could throw out in addition to my own:
- How can we put in place better tools and workflows to help the administration actually be accountable and transparent?
- Can we reduce the number of administrators we have and how much they’re paid?
- Whats going on with turnover on the board? There have been lots of comings and goings over the past year.
- Do you think it’s worth paying for education? (Kind of a fluffy question, but I’d like to hear the trustees articulate what is valuable about higher education in relation to the price it typically commands today.)
- What happens if the board rejects the hybrid model after it is presented to them by Jamshed on November 15th?
- Why have there been threats of closure? Especially to faculty and the dean of the Engineering school? Is there anything in the school’s charter about closure?
- What is the reputational risk of implementing tuition vs. closing schools?
- Why did Jamshed Bharucha, president of the school, get added to the board? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? (He is supposed to present plans to the Board and now gets to vote on them?)
- How much money does the board give to the school? Is it on par with other institutions?
- Can you address a rumor that approaching the attorney general to free up restricted funds from the endowment might jeopardize our arrangement with the Chrysler Building?
I’ve organized my notes from the meeting by topic of discussion:
Transparency and Communication
- Mark asks: why do people distrust the board?
- Rachel asks: can we have access to the Board’s meeting minutes? Mark says no, board meetings are “necessarily confidential” because board members throw out lots of bad ideas for discussion and don’t want misinformation to spread.
- Mark says slander on social media, “death threats”, and a low alumni contribution rate are obstacles that prevent the administration from raising money for the school.
- Casey counters that all the relentlessly positive spin put out by the school actually hurts it, the notion of a pristine public image is old-school, and there’s no way to control what people say. What if the school embraced the crazy, diverse “ecosystem” of opinions and ideas and didn’t mince words about its instability for a change?
Mark admits he wasn’t happy with the Wall Street Journal article because it “downplayed the need for donations”. The Board has a communications committee that deals with these issues.
The administration claims to strive for transparency, but anybody who goes digging far enough finds that the school won’t provide specific information or there are ridiculous bottlenecks to access. Lots of documents have been posted. Administrators are holding office hours. But what about making everything available online? Jamshed responds we can only share certain things within the “Cooper family” because posting everything on the internet could jeopardize sensitive negotiations with financial, legal, and philanthropic institutions.
- Lawrence Cacciatore reiterates that the level of access we’re getting — this meeting, for example — is unprecedented.
- Casey counters that it’s not enough.
Mark: “Cooper is unique in many ways, not in governance.” Putting a student on the board is “not going to happen.” “You need to learn to accept a no.”
T.C. has a report on administrative vs. instructional costs. We should check this out.
- Kristof: we respect our representatives, again with the idea of talking more in smaller rooms, we respect reps, diff
- Mark Epstein: that things where 97% of students gave a penny? “Not cute…insulting.”
- Mark: our alumni are not wealthy enough to fund us so we have to look for alternatives. If the message of giving back isn’t working, maybe we should talk about “giving forward.”
- Mark: Cooper’s Board hired consultants to tell them how they can be a better board. They reccomended changes such as much shorter terms for trustees, so the board reduced them a little bit.
Value and Cash
- Mauricio tried repeatedly to talk about Cooper “beyond the numbers”, Mark responds “we can’t get beyond numbers”. Mark says that there are many complicated ways to do accounting but he has two columns: money in and money out.
Jamshed briefed student council members very early on about “the plan which came to be known as the Hybrid Model”. Communication breakdown between student council and student body or problem of representation?
- Ché Pérez (Architecture Student Council): Because our model is so unqiue, what if we positioned Cooper at the center of the dialogue on education, and focused on hosting events and programs about education?
- Mark Epstein: That creates value, yes. But value isn’t cash. Value doesn’t pay the bills.
- In response to repeated comments from students about the importance of Cooper’s scholarship, Mark underscored that he thinks Cooper’s key quality is not its scholarship but its excellence. “What if we kept the school free but it was like a community college?”
Mark says that philanthropic foundations don’t like the school’s merit-based admission policy because they aren’t comfortable funding scholarships given to students that could afford to pay otherwise.
Francois de Menil: the faculty are the heart and soul of the school
- Mark Epstein: The Board doesn’t get involved with curriculum. “Noses in, fingers out.” The budget is worked out by the present.
- Che: School of Architecture only has two tenured faculty. So budget has a direct affect on curriculum.
Jamshed agrees that the school should have more tenured faculty.
- Mauricio didn’t like what Peter Cafiero had to say on the day students were invited into a board meeting after dangling dollar bills outside. Jamshed responds: “sometimes the truth makes you cry, Mauricio.”
Where to go from here
There are a number of things I want to follow up on:
- finding out which trustees are on which committee
- working with Lawrence Cacciatore on digitizing archives of public documents and information
- preparing a report on reccomended tools and workflows for better accountability and transparency
- obtaining T.C.’s report on administrative vs. instructional costs
- following up on questions that remain unanswered at the next meeting
Our next meeting is scheduled for November 28th at 10am in the President’s Conference Room. In addition to Rachel and I, one non-student-council student body representative may attend but it hasn’t been decided yet how this person will be chosen. Get in touch if you’re interested! Please also let me know if you’d like clarification on any of these points or have questions/concerns you’d like me to bring to the Board.