Peter Katz (Arch ’76): Candidate for Alumni Trustee

Caroline Yu (EE’15)

Peter Katz (Arch’76) is a candidate for Alumni Trustee in the Cooper Union Alumni Association. We asked him about his candidacy and thoughts on the CUAA.

 TCP: What are the primary reasons you’re running for alumni trustee?

PK: Although CUAA members have worked tirelessly for Cooper over the years (and I have great appreciation for their work), there’s a value of bringing in new leadership from time to time who see the world differently and bring new solutions. Also, given the strong possibility of “regime change” at Cooper in the near future, perhaps even forced on the administration and BoT by regulators as the result of a legal finding, it’s important that there are a few people around who have been elected by duly sanctioned bodies, yet have no connection to previous actions that may be seen as “part of the problem” that regulators may be trying to fix.

Also, from a personal standpoint, I feel a great debt to Cooper: I was a student whose parents were in the middle—not poor enough for scholarships and not rich enough for private colleges. The meritocracy that existed at Cooper when I attended resulted in a mix of fellow students that was really amazing. Future generations who self-select for such a school ought to be able to have the rich social and creative experience that I enjoyed.

TCP: What do you think are the most important goals CUAA should have right now?

PK: Consistent with Peter Cooper’s notion of grads “rallying round” the now troubled CU the best thing CUAA can do now is to prepare for a significant role in the coming transition. Elsewhere I have suggested new committees that will be about reconnecting with the Founder’s intent, and keeping the school functioning through the upcoming potentially messy regime change; spearheading an alternative search process for both an interim and long-term President (recent searches by the BoT have brought leaders who are out of touch with Cooper’s values and uniqueness); and also to create a “warehouse” ideas aimed at boosting CU’s revenue and restoring it’s proper functioning once regime change has occurred (but not before).

Many creative alumni minds are now focused on the problems at Cooper, and in some cases are coming up with viable solutions that they’ll share over a glass of beer. But because the administration has lost the confidence of the larger Cooper community, and they are not listening to alums anyway, many of our number are now withholding financial support and our best ideas for “fixing” Cooper. I suspect the situation will remain until alums feel that Cooper has an administration that’s more in sync with its core values, culture and the stated goals of its Founder.

Yet Cooper will need these ideas, so it makes sense to collect and refine them so they can be implemented quickly once Cooper is on the mend.

TCP: What is your current view of the relationship between CUAA and Cooper?

PK: I’ve touched on some of this in my previous answers and also in my comments on the candidate’s website. Although the energy and insights of alums may be great, that energy is often unfocused and clouded by sentimental memories of the institution where we spent our formative years. I’ve been away from Cooper for a good while, but I am now coming back to Cooper with fresh eyes. So I have a clear sense of what needs to happen to get Peter Cooper’s house in order.

This said, I keep coming back to the quote from Peter Cooper about grads “rallying round” the institution when all else fails. That was a visionary thought. More grads need to come back to the fold like I have, and so I applaud CUAA’s efforts to broaden the pool of voters and candidates.

But at the end of the day, this is not about us alums; Cooper needs to be saved, not for us, but for the current and future students of Cooper. When one reads the fine print in all the school’s governing documents, and looks at the dictionary definition of the word trustee—the job I’m “applying for,” one realizes that a board member’s job is simple: It is to prudently manage the property in the trust for the benefit of current future students. That clearly has not been the case in recent years.

TCP: What is your biggest message for voters?

PK: I want my candidacy to stand for three things: A back to basics approach to managing the schools assets (no more hedge funds!), transparency in its operations and leadership, and a return to the guidance of Peter Cooper which, semantics aside, means free tuition for all of its students.

 

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