On Wednesday, February 13th, 2013, President Bharucha released a statement to the Cooper Union community announcing that,
“Pending the Board’s decisions in March about the future of the institution, and in the absence of a sustainable model for the School of Art, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has directed the administration to notify students seeking early admission to the School of Art that their applications will be considered as part of the art school’s general application pool.”
The Art Student Council, representing the School of Art student body, views this top-down action as a baseless punishment that is damaging to the School of Art’s credibility. Art Student Council would like to address several issues, misconceptions, and errors in President Bharucha’s letter, as well as implore the administration to provide more clarity regarding this decision:
President Bharucha’s letter takes the applicants most committed to Cooper Union, and uses them as collateral against the Art Faculty. Applicants only get to apply to one college early, under a binding agreement that they will attend if they are accepted. With this decision, the Executive Committee has broken Cooper’s end of the bargain, wasting the chances of these applicants to apply to a college which honors its commitments.
President Bharucha’s letter is essentially blackmailing the faculty. In a meeting on February 19th, President Bharucha denied that this action is, as many faculty have described it, “punitive”. Yet it is was clearly issued in response to the Art Faculty’s Letter. Faculty did, in fact, comply with the President’s “Reinvention” charge to design a growth-based business model, but in the end they did not agree to tuition at Cooper Union. Although Faculty admit, in their letter, to finding the President’s charge “subtly coercive”, they took it up “in good faith” and put in months of work to develop plans for tuition-based academic programs. The result of their planning, in coordination with financial consultants, was that tuition-based academic programs will not financially sustain The Cooper Union, and will further damage this institution by compromising it’s biggest asset: the mission. In light of this conclusion, Faculty did not submit the plan, and instead made it clear to the President and Trustees that their rejection of tuition is participation in a sincere reinvention of The Cooper Union, and that they are committed to putting in the work to realize this. Faculty have already met, and will continue continue to meet, to reimagine Cooper Union within its means. This was never an option in the President’s poorly designed charge. A “Reinvention process” with the pre-determined result of expansion via tuition-based programs is not a legitimate process.
The “sustainable business models” alluded to in President Bharucha’s letter are not as substantial as he claims. The “Hybrid” programs designed by the Art Faculty were not slated to bring in revenue for at least 2-3 years, so it is unclear why they have affected this year’s admissions process. The School of Engineering faculty only received (not rejecting or adopting) one-half their revenue-generating proposal: the Undergraduate Tuition Committee report, effectively tabling it at the very last minute. As for Graduate Tuition, they concede that, “while there were many variables that affect revenue potential, the most significant was the number of students that attend. As with any proposal, it is difficult to estimate demand and represents risk.” The Architecture School’s plan is completely devoid of numbers, stating: “the question of the possible introduction of a fee-based model for the school is not an academic one and thus the Faculty has no authority to participate in the process of deciding such matters.” In this way, the Art Faculty has not acted less in the interest of sustainability than the faculties of Architecture and Engineering, who have submitted risky, incomplete, conditional plans. The fact that Art Faculty have raised a red flag about financial sustainability rather than agreeing with tuition to avoid being bullied by the administration is an assurance of their thoroughness and dedication.
President Bharucha’s letter fails to draw a logical connection between the Art Faculty’s letter and the Undergraduate Admissions process. President Bharchua has stated on the record in his own memos, New York Magazine, and The New York Times that, “undergraduate students who begin college in September 2013 will not pay tuition during their four years at Cooper Union”. By deferring an entire pool of Early Decision applicants on account of the “absence of a sustainable model”, the Executive Committee is essentially issuing an ultimatum that no art students will be admitted at all if a “sustainable model” is not presented by the time Regular Decision letters are due to go out in March. This new ultimatum by the Executive Committee and President Bharucha, is a “sudden reversal” on these previous statements guaranteeing scholarships to a class whose acceptance letters were ready to go out two weeks before being tossed.
In its vagueness, President Bharucha’s letter reads like a threat to faculty and applicants. If the Board does not plan to admit a class to the School of Art due to a misunderstanding, we would like to know that that is the case and have a conversation about it. If that is not the point of this mass-deferral, then Art Student Council would like to know: what is?