All posts by The Cooper Pioneer

Op-Ed: On The Art of Protesting

Anna Vila (A ‘15)

I was in St. Marks Market getting a sandwich after the [deferred art students] rally and I saw a member of the Cooper Union custodial staff. We started chatting. I asked him what he thought of the rally. He replied, “Oh yeah, it was nice, but you know everyone has it bad, it’s not just you guys, times are rough, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Which I totally understand. But does that imply that because everyone has it bad, it’s ok? Are we supposed to just sit down and take it? Should we just believe the lies that we’re fed and do nothing because life sucks and we might as well deal with it, since we’re just “spoiled and entitled brats?” Hell no. Are we spoiled and entitled for looking out for future kids and trying to ensure that they have a great future?

I don’t see how spending countless hours, out of pocket money, and a whole lot of effort and planning could be seen as selfish. When I listened to those kids speak [at the rally], I realized just how much I care about all of them, and the kids that will replace them, and the kids after that.

I want them to have a fucking beautiful college experience and education, I want them to come to Cooper and I want them to learn amazing things. I want to get to know them and talk to them about art and life and become life long Cooper alum buddies with them. I want them to grow, and change, and find out things about themselves that they never knew existed. I want their entire lives to be turned upside down like mine was, and I want their minds to be blown every single day like my mind is. I love this school and I love my teachers and I love my classmates and I love my future classmates and goddamn it, I will do everything I can to make sure that there will be future classmates to have.

During the week of action back in December, we received so many letters of solidarity from student activist movements from all across the country and the world. It was beautiful. Solidarity is an amazing thing… You have all these kids somewhere, out there, and you don’t even know them but the mere fact that they exist becomes a motivation. And let’s not forget the fact that this is happening everywhere. Being part of a student solidarity network is important because it just makes you realize that you’re not alone.

Elsewhere, out in the great big world we live in, people lose their lives fighting for what they believe in. Where I come from, people set themselves on fire to make a statement about injustice. Don’t look up self immolation in Greece, that shit’s fucked up.

I try to stay neutral and look at both sides of the situation, but protesting is something that I feel very strongly about. Obviously, people can do whatever they want and stand on whatever side, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand people who actively sneer and make fun of people trying to show that they care.

“Silly artists, so emotional – and artistic – and radical!” We’ve heard it all before. It’s not that funny. I get frustrated trying to explain gestures and poetry and symbolics to people who immediately look for holes and mistakes in everything, because a lot of protesting is poetics: the beauty of people coming together because they care about something so much that it tears them up and all they can do is scream. I went to my first protest when I was 14 and I don’t think I had ever felt more alive.

I’m not saying protesting is for everyone. I am a firm believer that people should decide their own level of involvement. I know personally, when I have been in situations where I’ve been obligated to participate more than I was prepared to, I left feeling gross and frustrated. Activist and social justice circles have a way of fostering a safe environment, which I think is super important.

Generally, if you’re uncomfortable with something, you are more than encouraged to do whatever you think is best for you, [whether it be] speak up, leave the room, etc).

This isn’t just us. Shit like this is happening everywhere. There are student protest and activist movements happening in Canada, England, and around the world because of the cost of education. Kids in Quebec hold nighttime rallies denouncing the Prime Minister’s attempt to raise their tuition, often ending in fights with the police. Students in Bulgaria have been credited for helping to overthrow their government by holding rallies in response to increases in tuition.

We in the Cooper Union are part of a global movement towards fairer educational practices and administrative decisions. Beyond that, the Cooper Union needs to stand as an example to the rest of the world of what happens when we believe and demonstrate that education is priceless, when we believe that students are our future and not customers.

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Faces of Cooper: Maxim Marienko

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you originally from?

Maxim Marienko: I am from Russia. I was born in Omsk but I got all my degrees in Moscow where I moved at the age of 17. I graduated from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (Phystech), one of the most selective and arguably the best physics school in Russia.

I got my PhD from another excellent place – Kapitza Institute for Physical Problems. I’ve been specializing in theoretical condensed matter physics – superconductivity, superfluidity, quantum liquids and gases, organic and high-temperature superconductors, physics of correlated electrons and complex quantum phenomena in general.

TCP: Why did you choose physics?

MM: Because I love it and I have a passion for it. Physics is the most fundamental of natural sciences, and it teaches us to think and to understand the world around us. I love questioning how things work. I like the idea that my research is making a contribution to world of knowledge. I like to solve problems.

It is the analytical thinking that physics develops that helps you with everything, not textbook problems – everything. And I really enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge, it is a very rewarding experience.

TCP: Which university or research lab was (or is) the most exciting place to work?

MM: I’ve been working at several universities. I went for a postdoc at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada. That is a great place for a condensed matter physicist and I learned a lot being there. I love it here in NY. With many universities around, there is a huge potential for learning, exchanging ideas, communicating with best researchers. My PhD years back in Moscow were absolutely great.

That was the first time I’ve got an experience working in a real research group, at a famous institution, wondering, discovering and publishing. The atmosphere was amazing – I probably didn’t have that anywhere else. And I love to be at Cooper. I love the students and their attitude. I feel that they are very energetic and many of them are trying to do more than just simply attend lectures, do the homework and pass the course. It reminds me of my years at Phystech, too.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper? What is your department’s role in Cooper?

MM: This is my 2nd semester here. I started with a recitation section. This semester I’m very excited to teach [the] lecture course of modern physics. It is a big class, and [that] is always a challenge, but it’s so exciting to teach such a complicated subject. I am enjoying doing that – working on my lectures, being in a classroom, trying my best to explain and I hope it works for students!

TCP: What brought you to Cooper Union?

MM: I knew Cooper is an excellent school and heard many good things about it. I thought, “I want to teach a course here,” and I am very glad that at some point it became possible!

TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague at Cooper?

MM: So far I’ve been working with Prof. [Alan] Wolf and with Prof. [Partha] Debroy. It’s going very well so far, and I look forward to meeting with other Cooper faculty members.

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

MM: Black and white traditional film photography, skiing, and mountain biking, if you wanted me to name three of them.

I am a big fan of black and white street and abstract photography. I do all the stages of it, including developing and printing in the dark room, even though I don’t have much time for it now. I like the style of Magnum photographers, Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Koudelka, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Frank, Ralph Gibson – the list is long actually. I’ve been very pedantic about a composition which is often hard to have in a street scene. You never think about the moment when you press the shutter button. You just do it when you feel everything in the viewfinder is at the right position. If you think, you will be a split second late and everything will change. So for me it’s some king of sport, too.

I do mountain biking in the summer and I ski a lot in the winter. I enjoy challenging terrains, bumps, moguls, trees. And I am glad to share my passion with many friends from whom I can learn too. After all, skiing is a social sport.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

MM: To be creative. To use their own initiative. Know your goals and be focused on them, but always try to invent something new in your life. Use your time at Cooper wisely. And once again, be creative.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Sports Update

Yara Elborolosy (CE ‘14)

The women’s tennis and volleyball teams’ season ended in the winter. Judy Wu, a junior civil engineering student currently on the women’s tennis team, commented on the women’s tennis team’s performance: “After weeks of training in South Carolina and Cape Cod, the women’s tennis team had an exciting season.

Playing home matches in the US Tennis Center, the team faced strong competitors such as Pratt, St. Joseph, and New Rochelle, and was able to seize victory in the majority of their matches. The women’s tennis team hopes for similar successes in the upcoming seasons.”

The women’s volleyball team also had a pretty good season. They focused on building a strong foundation for their team, which included recruiting and training new girls. By the end of the season, their players grew as a team and truly worked together.

Both the men and women’s basketball teams are almost done with the season. Both teams are losing some of their best players because their seniors are graduating, but the new recruits are learning quick and older players are stepping up.     The men’s tennis and volleyball team’s season started up pretty quick and they’re excited to play. The men’s (and women’s) tennis team will be headed to South Carolina in March for training for an excellent start to their season.

(Recent scores have been reproduced below.)

2/10/2013
Women’s Basketball @ College of New Rochelle        21-81     L

2/22/2013
Women’s Basketball @ Kings College        47-42    W
Men’s Basketball      @ Kings College        52-42    W

Student’s List: A List of Professors

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

Everybody knows about the Dean’s list; it typically consists of all the students that have received a 3.5 or higher.   The engineering student body’s response to the Dean’s list consists of, roughly, the highest rated professors from the Engineering School.  Without further ado:

Prof. Michael Bambino
Prof. Brian Cusack
Prof. Gwen Hyman
Prof. Julian Keenan
Prof. Carl Sable
Prof. Robert Smyth
Prof. Alan Tenney
Prof. Robert Topper
Prof. Cosmas Tzavelis
Prof. Leonid Vulakh

According to ESC representative Andrew Crudge (ME ’13), this list is the result from ESC’s course evaluations.  These evaluations were sent out, using non-cooper emails, to all engineering students who registered a non-cooper email address with ESC.  According to Crudge, 263 undergraduate students took the ESC course evaluations.  This list compiled automatically by averaging the responses to questions that were directly relevant to each professor.

The Students’ List from last year was compiled in a different fashion: students were allowed to vote for one professor and the professor with the most votes made the list.  Since this year did not require each professor to receive a large amount of votes, the new list contains a few adjunct professors while the previous list did not.

When asked why adjuncts were included on this new list, Crudge said “Adjuncts have always been in the running. In previous years we sent out a poll and asked students to choose one professor, which led to results that were statistically biased against adjuncts, who generally taught fewer students. This year our method is based on average responses, so it theoretically is not affected by the number of students a professor teaches.”

Professors Robert Smyth and Cosmas Tzavelis are the only two professors to be listed on this year’s list as well as last year’s.  Additionally, this year sees the inclusion of Humanities professors (e.g. Hyman and Keenan).

For reference, the previous list may be found at http://pioneer.cooper.edu/cooper-pioneer-volume-91-miniissue-10-march-5-2012/.

ID Scanner-featured

New ID Scanners

Saimon Sharif (ChE ‘15)

On January 23rd, a campus notice was sent to faculty, staff, and students with the subject “A Message About Safety.” The email stated that faculty, staff, and students attempting to enter 41 Cooper Square (NAB) would be required to swipe in using their Cooper Union ID card. The same group must show their Cooper Union ID when entering The Foundation Building. Previously, the ID requirement was only occasionally enforced.

According to Dean Lemiesz, the change in ID policy is due to a higher frequency of incidents involving outside individuals, previously related to Cooper Union, gaining entrance to buildings. Since older Cooper Union ID had color-coded validation stickers, a swipe policy for the NAB was planned when the building was constructed, but other matters interfered with the installation of the card readers.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Call Back Your Tanks

Call Back Your Tanks

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

On Friday March 1, 2013 a few members of the Board of Trustees, along with President Bharucha, spoke before the Cooper Community in the Great Hall.  We were treated to a brief history lesson from trustee Michael Borkowsky (ME ’61), followed by a Q&A session.  The first batch of questions came from a cache of roughly 120 questions that were submitted online by various members of the Cooper Community.  The second batch of questions was asked by members of the audience.  These questions were moderated by trustee Edgar Mokuvos (EE ’78).  Also present from the Board of Trustees were Don Blauweiss, A ’61; Raymond Falci, ME ’86; Thomas Driscoll, ME ’77; Francois de Menil, ARCH ’87 and, of course, Mark Epstein A ‘76.

These seven members of the Board of Trustees took their seats at 6 PM, almost exactly on the hour.  President Bharucha wasn’t there at first.  Something felt very off.  There are a lot of members of the Board of Trustees, presumably with a fair amount of diversity.  Why, then, would they pick seven, white men with glasses in their forties?  At the risk of sounding exceedingly snarky, the panel bore more than a passing resemblance to Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy millionaires of The Muppets.

I was not the only one to notice the homogenous group of men that sat before the hungry audience; at the forum, Professor Anita Grossman of the Humanities Department said, “Never have I been confronted with a podium that is so entirely male.”  Mark Epstein responded, with the right amount of humor and self-consciousness, “we’re well aware that we’re too male and white.”

I don’t bring up the lack of diversity for the sake of a cheap joke and obvious reference.  Clearly, there must have been a reason that these seven were selected, especially since a female member of the Board of Trustees sat in the front row of the audience, not a member of the panel.  Looking at the list of Trustees on cooper.edu (cooper.edu/about/trustees), we see 22 names listed, including Jamshed’s.  Of these 21 (I omit Jamshed), eleven have degrees from Cooper Union.  All eleven are male.  The members of the Board of Trustees who spoke on March 1st were all male, yes, but more importantly, they all have degrees from Cooper.

I’m sure many of you are writing this off as a mere coincidence already, so I did a little bit of number crunching.  Let’s assume that the seven members were chosen randomly from the pool of 21 names; the odds that all seven members chosen were Cooper graduates are approximately .284%, less than 3 in 1000.  To me, this shows that these men were chosen largely because of their direct ties to the Cooper Community.

It’s no secret that we as students and faculty members have alienated the Board of Trustees.  In their own way, I think this choice of having Cooper grads speak is a very well-intentioned attempt to connect with the fairly intimidating Cooper Community more.

Demographics aside, the forum was quite typical.  Many fantastic questions were asked, a few repetitive questions were asked and, as expected, Professor Sohnya Sayres calmly and elegantly explained the beauty of the meritocratic nature of Cooper Union.  Most familiar, perhaps, were how the members of the Board dodged and avoided questions.

The members represented did not take any kind of responsibility for mass deferring of the Art school’s class of 2017, they failed to tell us when real decisions will be made (they have told us that March 6 is an important meeting, however) and, in some cases, the members simply dismissively disagreed with points raised.  For instance, a student brought up the lack of transparency in the Board of Trustees and Thomas Driscoll simply responded with “I think there’s been a very transparent process.”

What else were we expecting?  I joked before the meeting that the best case scenario would be the announcement of a large-scale gift and that the worst case scenario would be the announcement of the closure or implementation of tuition at any of the three schools.  We didn’t get either of those, clearly, but frankly we didn’t gain any substantial information at all. Which naturally brings to mind a more complicated question: why even hold this meeting in the first place?

We’d all love to believe that the Board of Trustees would like to the hear the opinion of the community before making any dramatic decisions, but it’s a little bit late for that.  The Board is well aware of what the community feels about nearly everything at this point; I don’t know how much that affects the decision that they will eventually reach, but at this point it would be outrageous if they didn’t know how the community feels.  Given the sheer lack of new content that appeared during this meeting and the choice of all Cooper graduates, this seems like an attempt to reach out to the community gone wrong.

In retrospect, nothing else could have really happened.  We’re at the point in time where we, as a community, cannot influence the Board’s decisions.  All we can do is wait.  In lofty terms, this meeting was a form of anagnorisis: the moment in a Greek Tragedy when the tragic hero is suddenly made aware of his fate.  While it may be a reach to compare the troubles of the Cooper Community to a hero in an Aristotelian tragedy, this meeting was nothing but a severe kick back to reality.  It was the time we collectively realized that this is really happening.  Just like the classic Greek Tragedies, there’s nothing we can do about our fate.  Whatever happens at this point is completely out of our control.

The only thing we can do is attempt to reach out to the Board of Trustees.  Regardless of what happens to the Cooper Union, every single person in the Cooper Community can only better from more secure and real connections between the Board of Trustees and the rest of the community.  We’ve tried to reach out to Board on numerous occasions; many of the questions that students presented before the Board on March 1st were strictly about improving relationships between the Board and the Cooper Community.  I know it’s a cliché to say so at this point, but the Board is not reciprocating our effort.

As a community, we have to keep trying. March 1st was a day where we tried very hard to reach out and the Board simply gave us nothing.  When Professor Sayres beautifully described the appeal of Cooper Union, she stood before the Board of Trustees in an attempt to communicate she believed they did not understand.  A friend of mine took a screenshot from the live stream when she was speaking to the Board; the results are quite poignant.

We see our Sohnya Sayres standing before these power-tie wearing gentlemen. This photo encapsulates the clear and apparent barrier between the Board of Trustees and the Cooper Community, a wall both parties lent a hand to help erect.  Visually, it bears much resemblance to the iconic photo of a man standing alone before a column of tanks in the Tiananmen Square protests.  It is all too easy to demonize the Board of Trustees as a vaguely fascist, imposing and mechanical group of scary men in suits.  We must move past this.  These were Cooper grads we met with.  They aren’t an extension of the Community; they are a part of the Cooper Community.

There’s room on both sides to try harder.  Somehow, we need to improve our image of this collection of people.  In turn, they need to reach back to us when we reach out to them.  Someone has to make the first move; this ball won’t get rolling by itself.  Let’s keep trying to reach out to them.  Let’s not think about them as Statler and Waldorf, but as our brothers and sisters in the Cooper family.  It’s all we can really do.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Dean Wolf - featured

Dean Wolf: School Update

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

The Cooper Pioneer: At the end of last semester, ABET came to evaluate our engineering school.  How did that go?

Alan Wolf: We had an excellent visit. ABET reviewed 36 items and 33 of them required no change. The other 3 things are minor. ABET concluded their visit with a formal exit interview.  That meeting included myself, Assoc. Dean Delagrammatikas, President Bharucha, the four chairs of Cooper’s degree granting departments, and from ABET the four program evaluators (PEV’s) and the visiting team’s chair.  They talk about strengths and perceived weaknesses of our programs.  They rate concerns on a scale that includes: deficiencies, weaknesses, concerns, and observations.

The program evaluators, as you’d expect, are experts in the discipline they come here to review.  So a civil engineering PEV would be a professor or dean of civil engineering at another institution.  At the exit interview each PEV reads their draft report, which begins with a brief history of the department and then proceeds to a review of what the evaluator found in their preliminary study of Cooper (they study us before they even arrive on campus) and in the on campus visit, which ran from December 2 – 4.  A sample comment might be: “Faculty seemed to be very engaged with their students” or “Alumni seemed to feel that…”  The team chair also read her report, which was concerned with the engineering school overall.

So, nothing particularly serious came up in the exit interview. There are some minor concerns that we are either obligated to respond to, or can choose to respond to. I’m very pleased. This is a good time to thank the faculty, students and staff who helped us in many diverse ways to show off the School of Engineering to its best advantage.  Special thanks to Cooper students Andrew Crudge and Mike Palafox, who designed and built our new faculty web site, https://engfac.cooper.edu/  Our visitors were impressed by the faculty and student work that is now on display there.

A few days ago we received a written version of their reports.  I haven’t had a chance to review them yet.  We now have 30 days to respond.  Some departments, such as civil engineering, will not respond because nothing, not even a minor concern, was found in that department. Other departments may disagree with minor concerns, and they may wish to express those to ABET, or they may decide to change departmental practices to conform to ABET standards.

I should mention that the reports themselves are confidential.  Also, that it is nearly impossible for academic programs these days to get a “perfect” result, a clean bill of health, regardless of whether we deal with ABET (engineering accreditation) or Middle States (accreditation for the entire institution).

TCP: Do you think that the protests that occurred in early December will have any effect on our ABET results?

AW:  No.  I was at an AITU [Association of Independent Technological Universities] conference in San Diego recently.  One of the speakers at the conference was the head of an engineering accreditation organization, but a different organization (not ABET). It was a very interesting talk.  For example, I learned that accreditation began after World War II, when the G.I. bill allowed retuning soldiers to receive financial aid for college (among many other benefits).  The government was concerned that soldiers might be taken advantage of by educational institutions of poor quality.  Anyway, someone from another institution asked the speaker: “Do accrediting organizations care about a college’s financial weakness or internal debates?”  Her answer was very similar to remarks made by the ABET team chair in our recent visit – such matters are not of direct concern.  If, however, things like financial problems point to underlying institutional problems that affect the school’s educational mission, then they will receive an appropriate amount of scrutiny.  In any event, recent events at Cooper were not mentioned in our ABET exit interview.

The purpose of ABET is to make sure that you do what you’ve promised to do in your educational programs.  They want to check that there are procedures in place to fix things that are broken.  That includes insuring that we “close the loop.”  What that means, formally, is that we use the results of ‘assessment’ to improve our institution, programs, and courses.  For example, at the level of an individual course, you, the instructor, have an idea of how you’re going to teach a course.  You teach it.  You assess to see if your objectives were met.  If they were, great.  If not, the assessment (however that is done – there are a number of ways) is feedback to you that may suggest how to teach the course more effectively the next time you teach it.  They don’t have the ‘manpower’ and time to see what actually happens in each classroom, but ABET does verify that the feedback loops are in place.

TCP:  Last December, it’s my understanding that the engineering faculty prepared a document that was presented to Jamshed which was presented to the Board of Trustees.

AW:  We prepared five reports, they’ve been posted on the web and otherwise widely distributed.  We prepared an undergraduate tuition report, a graduation tuition report (that’s a misnomer, it includes any program that generates revenue and is not an undergraduate program).  We also had three committees that weren’t about revenue generation – for example a committee on the engineering school’s culture.  The reports were given to the board with supplementary materials like Excel spreadsheets containing very elaborate models of revenue generation.  Our five reports totaled nearly 100 pages. I was told by some trustees shortly after the December 5th meeting that they were very impressed with our hard work, our creativity, and with the sophistication of our models. I’m very proud of the faculty for mobilizing on reinvention the way that they did.  The trustees are now studying our reports.  We expect to hear back from them in March.

TCP: In March?

AW: We had originally expected to hear something in December.  Then came the holidays, etc. Now they have to study our reports and our models.  That takes time.

I’m still not clear what will happen in March exactly.  Will they tell us our fate?  Perhaps.  Will they want to talk to us in March before deciding our fate?  Ask more probing questions?  Will we be contacted before March with those questions? I don’t have answers to these questions.

TCP:  Do you have any information about who our permanent dean will be?

AW: On February 5th, we’re getting an update from the search firm that has been seeking out candidates.  On that date, I think we’re going to be generating a short list from the full list of plausible candidates.  We will rank them based on lots of criteria, such as their leadership style, their experience in financial and budgetary matters, their track record for building partnerships with the private sector, their commitment to undergraduate education, their passion for directly interacting with students, high energy and work ethic, and several other factors.  The firm has been helpful.  Two years ago the Dean Search Committee did a search without the assistance of a search firm, and we didn’t find anyone who really excited the faculty.  The search firm hasn’t just placed ads for the position, they went out to actively recruit candidates.

As you may notice, I have a new clock on my desk.  It’s a countdown clock showing how many days I have left in my position as Acting Dean.  Right now, 118 days, 15 hours…  I’m eager to have a new Dean in place. It’s interesting work, and I enjoy working with the President’s leadership team, but this job, when done properly, requires an enormous amount of time and effort.  And a great deal of time spent in meetings.  I’m at 300-400 work-related emails a day, and can barely keep up.  So much time handling relatively minor matters that it is hard to find time for the bigger, more exciting tasks – like designing a program to be held this summer whose working title is “Cooper Invention Factory.”  More on that soon!  So I will be the first person to champion any new plausible candidate (laughs).

We have a timeline for the selection process.  After we generate a short list of candidates there will be rounds of interviews, off campus and on campus.  There will be meetings with faculty, students, and administrators, and perhaps presentations to these groups.  We recognize that finding someone terrific is a challenge given Cooper’s current financial situation and internal debates.  By the time we are closer to the end of the timeline, we will be past the March trustee meeting – so I expect that we will have some sense of the institution’s fate.  There are people who revel in addressing challenges like this.  I hope we find someone like that – a fixer.

As for our financial challenges, Vice President Westcott is working very hard on a financial package that will keep us afloat until 2018 at which we get a few years of relief from the Chrysler rent bump.  If anyone can do it, it’s TC.

TCP:  As head of the physics department, have you begun looking for a full time faculty professor to replace Professor Uglesich?

AW:  No new searches for faculty members right now.  We have a few departments in engineering that are losing visiting faculty or faculty through retirement, but until we know the fate of the school(s) it doesn’t make sense to look for new full time faculty.  I hope to revisit this after the March meeting.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)