To Some, FEC Plan to Free Tuition Is Not Fast Enough

By Matthew Grattan (BSE ’19)

If all goes well, the Free Education Committee’s plan will return the full-tuition scholarship to Cooper Union in 10 years. But for some, that’s just not fast enough.

The Pioneer obtained several letters to the Board of Trustees expressing concerns that the proposed 10-year plan back to free tuition would put too much of Cooper Union’s reputation at stake. The Board of Trustees will vote on the FEC plan on March 14, yet some members of the Cooper community are apprehensive that certain features of the plan have not been given due consideration.

Letters by the faculty of the School of Art, Professor of Electrical Engineering Toby Cumberbatch, and former trustee Michael Borkowsky (ME ’61) express the common concern that taking ten years to return to the full-tuition scholarship model will degrade Cooper Union’s reputation.

In their letter, the faculty of the School of Art expresses “serious reservations” about the FEC report’s 10-year plan and its strategy to increase dorm costs to market rate. Increasing dorm cost could discourage newly admitted students from living in the dorms as first-years or from attending Cooper at all.

The art faculty’s letter also advises the Board to consider the “immaterial as well as the material impact of tuition on students and alumni.” Ostensibly, the art faculty asks for a more exhaustive characterization of the effects of tuition beyond the analyses of standardized test scores, high school grade point averages, and admissions statistics presented in Appendix C of the FEC Report. Until their concerns have been addressed, the art faculty ask the Board to delay the March 14 vote.

In his letter, Cumberbatch proposes adopting a five-year plan back to free. While such a plan would place “enormous pressure” on Cooper Union, it could also “galvanize the community and become a focal point for fundraising.”

Cumberbatch also considers the future of Cooper amidst increasing concerns over global climate change. “Within 10 years,” he asks, “will it even matter if The Cooper Union is free or will New York be partially underwater?”

Borkowsky’s nine-page letter suggests alternatives to the FEC’s Recommended Plan, which he calls a “major step forward” but adds that it does not adequately address the urgency of returning to free.

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