On the Subject of Reinvention

Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)

At Cooper, Reinvention has begun. Well, not exactly. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

No one has forgotten the letter from President Bharucha explaining the deep financial crisis the school is in from a year and a half ago – and everyone since then has worked tirelessly to figure out how to solve it. The Revenue Task Force released a report in December 2011 that proposed keeping the full tuition scholarship and put in place revenue generating programs such as online course, programs for high school students, and professional development classes – all of which were explored in greater detail by the Engineering School’s Reinvention Graduate Tuition Committee.

Additionally, the committee explained how important the full tuition scholarship is and posed the questions everyone wants the answer to – how do we give Cooper its advantage? How do we optimize Cooper’s resources?

A few months later the Expense Reduction Committeee, which stressed how there has been a structural deficit and suggested a number of changes: phasing out of the BSE program, selling the dorms, and figuring out a better way to utilize the space Cooper has. These changes will eventually be taken into effect.

Throughout all of this, Joint Faculty Meetings were held, but unfortunately attendance was not great due to everyone’s non-overlapping schedules. So at some point last summer, President Bharucha asked each of the three schools individually to come up with a plan for their respective schools.

Each school, independent of one another, discussed plans to reinvent particular ways to generate a certain amount of revenue, with all the calculations confirmed by CDG, a firm hired by Cooper. Come winter, when the three deans of the three schools presented their plans to the Board of Trustees, they were met with resistance – not from the board itself, but from student protesters. Because of that, and the “No Tuition It’s Our Mission” protest last spring, “at that moment”, said Dean Bos, “it was interpreted that no revenue whatsoever [should be part of Reinvention]”.

The art faculty eventually then said that revenue generating programs were out of the question, and had to take a stand against it. They voted against forwarding the proposals to the board and wrote a nuanced letter explaining how they felt.

This letter was received, Dean Bos perceives, by the Board of Trustees and the president as an “unwillingness” to move forward with Reinvention, despite the last paragraph of the letter where the faculty essentially affirm their desire to work with the administration and the board.

However, once the students for next year’s class were deferred because no plan was put forward, it was made clear just how important adopting the plans was to the survival of the art school. Since then, the art school has put programs forward for Reinvention: a revenue generating precollege program which can start as early as 2014 where students learn about “how to think about going to an art school” and what a BFA is, and a Masters of Design Practice where students learn a lot about design in the social sphere.

So what does it all really mean? There are many proposals on the table, each of which sustain the three schools individually – not as a whole Cooper Union. Financially, the plan to reinvent has begun – however other aspects of Reinvention have yet to be tackled. The process of bridging the divide between the three schools has not yet begun.

The story of reinvention will continue to be this complicated story mired in conflict, but there is no question now – there is no turning back, the schools have proposed financially sustainable paths to take.

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