Open Letter to Students

By Professor Atina Grossman 

Addressed to all Cooper Union students, both those who signed and, those who did not sign, the recent Petition to the HSS Faculty.

While I definitely think that the tone of the petition was not helpful in terms of building the strategic alliances we will need to meet complicated challenges I do think that the HSS searches and the student petition offer an excellent opportunity for us—faculty and students—to focus on the critical substantive issues and to make some very important points about how these very real needs can only be fulfilled if:

a) the Board of Trustees and the administration provide HSS with the resources to attract and retain a diverse full-time faculty that can teach a diverse curriculum. And,

b) the three schools are willing to adjust their curricular and credit requirements to make it possible for the students to actually take advantage of the newly diverse curriculum that we would hope to create.

Therefore, to the student petitioners: Right On! (to use a phrase from my past):  On to more (more strategically phrased) petitions, to the Board of Trustees and administration and to their own schools.

This is an opportunity for the students to really think through what kind of an institution Cooper Union is, why they chose to come to a school with such a limited number of humanities and social sciences offerings. After all, HSS courses presumably are where many of these issues can be addressed critically and thoughtfully and in an academic context; that’s why the petition is addressed to HSS and not to the other schools which of course have similar problems in terms of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty. (Just look at the Engineering School! Moreover, ironically, given the focus on HSS, the example in the Pioneer referred to the Art School).

This is also the moment to think about what needs to be changed in the Cooper Union curriculum and structure as a whole, and within each of the three pre-professional schools, to assure that students here can in fact have—within the (hopefully expanding) limits of their demanding majors—a rich diverse educational experience with an exciting, academically excellent, and diverse set of faculty.

How do we claim the money and resources to attract such people (having worked my heart and body out on these searches, I know how very difficult this is)?

How do we make space in the curriculum so that potential new faculty could really have the opportunity to teach the diverse perspectives they would bring? And how do we find or create space in the curriculum—and crucially—within the credit structure decreed by the three schools to assure that students can really take advantage of these opportunities?

These are difficult questions and they are truly worth debating:

What are you as students willing to sacrifice in terms of your own major to have the kind of curriculum the petition demands?

What is the institution willing to sacrifice and to invest, to make the provision of such a curriculum possible?

I would love to meet with the students to engage in that discussion. I would be happy to take up the demand for a community-wide meeting. I am sure some of my colleagues would as well. I look forward to our ongoing conversation.

Atina Grossmann
Professor of History

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