CSCU is pursuing legal action as a last resort after Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees proceeded to stop offering the free education required by the Charter.
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A Second Chance for Cooper Union
The Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU) has been working closely with the New York Attorney General’s Office (OAG) to return Cooper Union to its tuition-free and merit-based mission, ensure the school’s fiscal recovery, and establish better governance structures. The OAG and CSCU challenged the school’s Board of Trustees to rethink its ill-conceived response to the fiscal crisis, reconsider the decision to charge tuition, and accept binding, verifiable changes to how the school is run.
Today, we are proud to announce that this effort succeeded and a Consent Decree has been signed by The Cooper Union, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and The Committee to Save Cooper Union. As a part of this agreement, which will be filed with the Court tomorrow, CSCU has settled its lawsuit with the trustees. The Attorney General will also be filing a cy pres petition.
The changes dictated by the Consent Decree and cy pres petition will enable Cooper Union to find a practical path back to its full scholarship model; give alumni, students, faculty, and staff a powerful role in Cooper’s governance; institute strict oversight of the school’s progress toward its goals; spur a serious effort to balance its budget; and reform its governance.
The confidential investigation by the Attorney General came about as a result of the CSCU’s lawsuit and has culminated in today’s announcement. According to the cy pres, the Attorney General intervened “to safeguard Peter Cooper’s irreplaceable gift to the people of New York.”
The Consent Decree and cy pres provide far more power to the community and genuine oversight than CSCU could have possibly gained with its lawsuit alone. Equally important, we can begin the process of restoring the mission of Cooper Union today—not after years of legal battles and appeals.
The Consent Decree and cy pres include the following provisions:
- Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees, together with the community, will work to return Cooper Union to a high-quality, sustainable, tuition-free model as soon as practical. A special committee of the Board will be dedicated to development of a strategic plan to return the school to its traditional tuition-free policy;
- Alignment of the trust and charter of the school, through the cy pres petition, to reflect the evolution of the institution into its modern form and provide for judicial oversight of the effort to return to a full tuition scholarship model;
- Expansion of the Board to include student trustees (2), additional alumni trustees (2), and faculty and staff representatives (6);
- Establishment of the Council of the Associates of Cooper Union—comprised of the alumni, student, and faculty trustees—with the charge to develop a full plan and proposal for The Associates of Cooper Union.
- Appointment of an independent financial monitor who will be responsible for evaluating and reporting on the financial management of Cooper Union, including compliance with the Consent Decree;
- Transparent disclosure of Board materials, budget documents, and investment results;
- Formation of a board committee to further reform the school’s governance; and
- An inclusive search committee to identify the next full-term president.
While the agreements to be filed with the Court are not an immediate, or guaranteed, return to “free,” they impose an independent financial monitor; establish a Board committee made up of alumni, students, and faculty that is dedicated to developing a plan for the return to free tuition; and require the school’s leadership to make a good faith effort to return to free. As always, CSCU and the larger community will remain vigilant in assuring genuine progress.
As part of the cy pres, the OAG details its exhaustive investigation into the many missteps on the part of the Board of Trustees, as well as Presidents George Campbell and Jamshed Bharucha and others, over the course of the last 10 years. The OAG’s account includes many of the risky schemes, misrepresentations, and poor governance practices that created the current crisis.
The cy pres states, the “investigation reveals that Cooper Union has paid a steep price, including, at least temporarily, its free-tuition tradition, as a result of shortcomings in its oversight and management functions over the past decade.”
In addition to the generous and tireless Cooper community that made the CSCU effort possible, we would like to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, lead AAG John Oleske, and their dedicated staff for their critical role in investigating the actions that led to the school’s problems and negotiating a workable framework to reform the school’s governance. We would also like to thank State Senator Brad Hoylman for his leadership on this important issue.
Finally, we would like to recognize the good faith efforts of newly appointed Interim President William Mea, who we look forward to working with to achieve our ultimate goal — a vibrant, tuition-free, and fiscally sound Cooper Union.
On September 14th, the New York State Supreme Court is expected to review and approve the settlement. Please stay tuned for more information from CSCU on events to take place on that date including a potential evening celebratory gathering.
For more information, please visit: www.savecooperunion.org