Inauguration Sparks Conversation, but Not Nearly Enough

By Gabriela Godlewski (CE ’19)

We need to continue to be aware of and be involved in the decisions the administration makes to our school.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Pioneer as a whole.

Laura Sparks’ official inauguration arguably brings Cooper Union into a new era in its history. After a lot of arduous work and input from both students and faculty, we finally found someone who fits the role of a leader at The Cooper Union. The inauguration was also not only about the president, but about our academic and cultural community—a stark contrast from the last lavish High Line inaugural extravaganza. However, the event also indicated a disappointing trend happening within the student body. Students have generally been very welcoming of Laura Sparks as the new president of Cooper, but how many of us actually attended the inauguration? Despite classes being canceled for this event, a small fraction of the total student body was present. The low student turnout in a very important event of our history is indicative of the increasing complacency of our student body. 

While the low student turnout was disappointing, it was also unsurprising. Many students at The Cooper Union do not get involved with the politics within the school at all, even if the events pertain directly to them. During student body elections, it is very difficult to get many students to vote. There is generally low turnout from the student body for any kind of community gathering from panels with faculty and the administration to student council meetings. 

There is no longer a need for current students to be as angry as the former students who protested the introduction of tuition. However, there is a need for student awareness and involvement for issues that unfold during our time at Cooper as they often pertain directly to us and our experience as students. Although there is no longer a need to occupy the president’s office to protest the invasion of student rights, we need to continue to be aware of and be involved in the decisions the administration makes to our school.

Under President Sparks’ direction, positive change finally began to take place at Cooper. The Great Hall has been getting more events featuring prolific speakers from various fields, revitalizing a major source of political, educational, and cultural significance. The most recent hires in faculty and administration have included more diverse candidates that not only better reflect the student body but have assisted in making Cooper a more pleasant institution. More counselors have been made available for students who need to talk, emphasizing the importance of mental health. Most notably, this is the first year that the school is no longer running on a yearly deficit.

Things are definitely better, but not perfect.

While many aspects of The Cooper Union are improving, it is imperative that we as students continue to watch our administration carefully, ask questions as often as possible, and make sure the student voice is represented and heard. Improvement in Cooper, especially in the administration, is what we have needed for a long time. The improvements made can lead to the student body getting comfortable, at which point they may stop asking questions and become less and less aware of what is going on within the school. I believe in President Laura Sparks and what she can do for us, but I also believe that complacency among the student body, at its worst, could lead us back to where we were in 2013. Things are definitely better, but not perfect.

While Laura Sparks’ inauguration finally puts our worries of finding a suitable president at ease, the event does not mean that everything is golden and our path back to free will be a smooth one. In the past few weeks alone, new topics have entered conversation, namely the new Free Education Committee report and the decision to make the amount of credits offered in a class is proportional to the hours of the class. The FEC report is particularly important as it describes the current plan for returning Cooper to a free tuition model, but some proposals have been controversial, such as the decreasing of scholarships for graduate students from 66% to 25% until 100% undergraduate tuition is achieved. Even more recently, the administration decided to lessen hours for certain classes, making their credit value equal the number of hours allotted for each course. While some argue that such budget cuts are necessary and that lessening hours is fairer for students, others argue that this compromises the quality of education, which should be kept priority for the sake of upholding Cooper’s academic reputation.

There are other issues that require attention outside of the tuition conversation. For example, the lack of diversity in race and gender in the school of engineering is a problem that needs to be corrected. The Diversity Task Force was set up to work toward a solution to level the playing field for all races, genders, and ethnicities at Cooper in accordance with Peter Cooper’s original purpose for the school, and the task force encourages students to get involved. There is also the forever daunting issue of working towards the union of the art, architecture, and engineering schools through fostering student interaction within and outside a classroom setting.

These are the conversations we as students should be having with each other and with the administration. Conversation is how we find out what’s going on and learn more about how these decisions impact different aspects of our Cooper community. Conversation gives rise to ideas, allowing them to grow and develop, until someone who can act on the idea hears them. Our input is especially valuable now when the administration is toeing the line between sacrificing valuable aspects of Cooper and returning us to free. The issues currently on the table as well as issues that will inevitably surface in the future can only be properly addressed if we as students take the time to learn about these issues and facilitate conversation with members of the administration as well as amongst ourselves. We as students are our own greatest resource and can facilitate change, no matter how minor, if we at least are willing to take the time to talk and listen.

Considering the fact that Cooper has less than a thousand students total, hearing an individual student voice should not be very hard. Anyone with questions, comments, ideas, or anything at all to say has many resources as so many people are willing to listen. All three schools have their respective student councils as well as a Joint Student Council which allow anyone to sit in on meetings and participate in discussion. As Cooper students with busy schedules, setting aside time for these extra commitments may not be possible, but talking to members or regular attendees is much easier and can still lead to problems or ideas being addressed.

Cooper Union, in the end, is for us.

Cooper Union, in the end, is for us. The school is unlike any other, not only offering us well-respected degrees in the fields of our choice, but also offers us a chance to engage in a dynamic community going through a lot of political and social change. In keeping our heads down and exclusively focusing on work, the opportunity to become well-rounded artists, architects, and engineers engaging in conversation and community is lost on us. We are fortunate to have gone to this school during a time when the president willingly opens her doors to the students and engages with us about what we care about in this school. So long as the school is working towards free, students cannot afford to find comfort in apathy and instead must work towards finding the elusive and important truth in our community. ◊

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