By Daniel Galperin (ChE ’18)
On September 2, 2015 the lawsuit between the Board of Trustees (BoT) and the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU) was settled with the issuance of a Consent Decree. Among its many demands and resolutions, the Consent Decree calls for the appointment of an independent Financial Monitor. According to the Consent Decree, the Attorney General was to select the Financial Monitor by December 1, 2015, however to this day Justice Bannon has not signed the Consent Decree, which means no selection can happen.
The independent Financial Monitor would have a duty to analyze and report the state of financial affairs at Cooper, and would also evaluate Cooper’s compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree itself. The independence of the Financial Monitor is understood as the selection of an unbiased reporter who only answers to the mandates of the Consent Decree in analysis of Cooper’s finances. This external oversight is a significant change in the governance at Cooper, as there is now a fiduciary responsibility from all parties to provide a good-faith effort to return Cooper to a full-tuition scholarship model.
“The independence of the Financial Monitor is understood as the selection of an unbiased reporter who only answers to the mandates of the Consent Decree in analysis of Cooper’s finances. “
There is a sentiment that past demands made towards the BoT have sometimes been agreed upon and not carried out fully or effectively. The appointment of a Monitor that can oversee compliance with the Consent Decree allows for the presence of an impartial arbiter that can urge action, justification or change where it is needed and demand it where necessary. Further, the Financial Monitor is given open access to all BoT meetings, including those of the Finance and Business Affairs Committee and Free Education Committee.
The Free Education Committee is another mandate of the Consent Decree and is meant to work with the Financial Monitor in order to decide when financial conditions would allow for a return to a “full tuition scholarship model that maintains Cooper Union’s strong reputation for academic quality.” These committees, along with the Finance and Business Affairs are hopefully steps in the right direction for Cooper, however they only come into effect once the Consent Decree is signed.
Moreover, the Financial Monitor is expected to “report annually, beginning on February 15, 2016”. These reports would be made public on the Cooper website and would outline the financial conditions at Cooper as well as the extent of compliance of the BoT with the Consent Decree. More specifically, it would state whether or not the Financial Monitor believes that the board’s actions were made in the best interests of Cooper. There would also be an analysis of the feasibility of the Free Education Committee’s plan to return Cooper to a full-tuition scholarship model. Appointing a Financial Monitor on December 1st would have allowed for two and a half months to prepare for such a report. Delaying the process of selection of the Financial Monitor allows for even less time to prepare a first annual report, which would likely push back the entire timeline at a very critical junction for Cooper.
Most of the community is aligned in the belief that this is a period in Cooper history where it is simply not possible to delay critical evaluation of finances any further for fear of financial insolvency. Hopefully the Consent Decree is signed post-haste so that coordinated and deliberate efforts can be made to rescuing Cooper from financial turmoil.