All posts by The Cooper Pioneer

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)

NSBE’s Charity Date Auction

Yara Elborolosy (CE ‘14)

This past Thursday, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE for short), held the charity date auction to raise money for Socialite, a project led by Cooper faculty member Toby Cumberbatch to bring more solar powered lights to Ghana. These lights are carried around as lanterns to light the path at night since many of the towns there do not have sufficient lighting.

The charity date auction was held in the rose auditorium at 9pm Thursday, January 31st, and it was packed with not only engineering students but also art studnets as well. What was being auctioned off was a date for Feb Ceb, Cooper’s annual spring party held in the great hall.
People who want to be auctioned fill out a survey about themselves. Everyone has a song playing in the background as they walk to the stage and has their introduction read out loud. Bidding for men starts at three dollars while for women it starts at five dollars. You can even be sold as a set or a couple if you are too scared or uncomfortable to go on by yourself.

Everyone in the audience has a paper plate with a number on it which is how they raise the bid. It’s a pretty interesting way of bidding, with the risk of being offensive, insulting, or disrespectful. The students who did attend seemed to have no qualms with how the auction was in a sense selling humans as if they were cattle.

At the end of the night, this went on for about two to two and a half hours, over $2000.00 was raised, which beat last years record of over $1500. It goes to a wonderful cause but whether or not it is morally okay to reenact the selling of humans is a personal moral issue that each of you can determine for yourself.

CUCC Printer - featured

New Printing Limits in the CUCC

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

The Cooper Union Computer Center serves as a place every Cooper student can use to print out what they need. Fortunately, after the decrease of operators working per hour in the computer center, the amount of printing problems has not increased. However, around each printer, students have noticed the piles of paper that were printed but not picked up. Not only is it wasteful, Computer Center Student Manager Alexander Erb, says that because many of the papers left were printed double-sided, the CUCC could only throw these documents away.

The CUCC has now instituted a printing page limit. The biggest issue was the amount of printed pages left at the CUCC last semester. It was noticed that “more students seemed to have found their books online in the past couple of years and end up printing multiple copies and only taking one of them.” Alexander Erb also believes that “one thing people don’t seem to realize is [that there] is a small fee for each page printed that Cooper takes care of. And now that people are printing out textbooks, they’re leaving Cooper to pay for their books.”

Although there are only signs at each printer, the new limit is enforced by the means of a new system where printing several copies of the same document or a document over twenty pages is not allowed. If this new limit system works, the CUCC will not have to consider other options where students would have to pay an extra fee for printing or have a printing page limit as other colleges do.

Alexander Erb has advice for Cooper students: “print double sided when you can, try to print in black and white whenever possible, don’t print textbooks all at once [it is] easier if you just printed portions you need every few weeks, and only print out sections needed for your class.” If you already have pressed the print button at a computer, don’t press it again unless you are positive the printer did not receive the printing request!

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Feb Ceb

Yara Elborolosy (CE ‘14)

If you walked into the great hall last Friday night, you probably would have been shocked to find about fifteen tables lined up in the hallway, decorated with baby blue table cloth, plastic cups with bead necklaces, tissue paper, Styrofoam stars, and snowflakes with glitter glue. If you walked in early enough, you would have seen about twenty girls, from the basketball and volleyball team, setting up the hall for Feb Ceb. Feb Ceb, short for February Celebration, took place on Saturday night from 8pm to about midnight. It is essentially a spring party for Cooper and non-Cooper guests to have a good time with dinner and dancing. Music was provided by DJ and current Cooper student, George Holevas (ChE ’14). The reason the celebration is in February is to remember Peter Cooper’s birthday and his mission. This year the theme is winter wonderland, explaining the snowflakes that can be found everywhere while last year the dance was Valentine’s Day themed.

Tickets were sold at the door for fifteen dollars each but if you bought them beforehand, they were being sold two for twenty five. Dean Baker who helps plan this event, along with Natalia Zawisny (CE ’14), Ghazal Erfani (ChE ’14), Alice Yang (ChE ’13), and Stephanie Borches (CE ’14), stays at Feb Ceb for a good portion, if not all, of the night to assure everyone is enjoying themselves and that everything goes well. Usually about eighty to hundred people attend, filling up all of the tables being set up and the stage in the great hall, which is where the dancing occurs. It is a wonderful way to meet new people and just have fun before the workload from the semester starts to pile.

protest 2 - featured

A Free Institution

Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)


On June 17, 1858, Abraham Lincoln made the argument that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, arguing with passion that all people must be free. Two years later, he would give a speech at Cooper Union, where he spoke with passion again, dedicated to the cause of a free man, at a school dedicated to a free education.

Fast forward 150 years: Cooper Union is a school in torpor, financially at first, putting in jeopardy the free school.A new president, President Jamshed Bharucha comes in to solve the crisis at hand, and exposes all the details to everyone. The Cooper community finds out that Cooper is running on massive deficits and has a good deal of debt, therefore something must be done to keep the institution solvent. Immediately, committees were put together, taxes were released, and talks between all sorts of people in the Cooper community were held.

After listening to the talks, reading the reports and discussing options – one fact was revealed: tuition was on the table as a last resort. Time passed by, but the situation appeared to be growing more dire, which has led to tense relations between some in the community and a series of protests.

The latest in the series of protests began on Monday, December 3 – students, faculty, alumni and general members of the Cooper community attended in an effort to express their strong opposition to a tuition based plan, with red banners flowing and posters reading “Debtaster Zone” and “Free”.

In the communiqué distributed, there are three demands made by the protestors: a commitment from administrators, affirming that they are committed to a free education; reforms in the Board of Trustees proceedings – in particular, a call for more transparency; and lastly, the resignation of President Bharucha.

The first two points were elaborated on in the communiqué. However, an explanation as to why the protestors demanded Bharucha’s resignation can be found elsewhere: in a leaflet distributed at the protest, written by Casey Gollan, a senior art student enrolled here at Cooper.

It is suggested in this leaflet that the president came in with an agenda, which is in direct conflict with the mission of Peter Cooper – symbolized throughout the day on Monday with carts clashing into each other, into cardboard tombstones, symbolic of Peter Cooper.
This leaflet asserted that the agenda that the president supposedly holds has not been forfeited in any way, and further went to on to claim that the president uses boilerplate and the police to solve issues.

This view, in particular that the president has had an agenda in store is not unique to only Casey, but was shared by many at the protest, though not everyone. Mia Eaton, the wife of a tenured art professor, also shared that view, and believed that tuition is selling Cooper’s reputation, redefining its mission, and for this reason, it should be closed.

She explained to me how the students who barricaded themselves in the Peter Cooper Suite (or referred to by many in the media as the Clock Tower), were (and still are) risking everything – arrest and expulsion being the biggest two – for this cause.

While the protestors, whether in the suite or not, continue to protest things that might be voted on, the general plans for the future are vague – all that is really understood is that the solution must not include any tuition. Asher Mones, an art student who attended the protest, said that its really up to the administration, those committed to the mission of no tuition are who should decide. Some distributed copies of The Way Forward and bullet points as to what possibly could be done in an effort to solve it, but an official comprehensive solution was not endorsed.

Tuesday, President Bharucha addressed the protestors while ensnared by them, in the lobby of 41 Cooper Square. He repeated all the facts, told them what was going on in current talks with everyone, and then offered the protestors to join him in the Great Hall to discuss matters further. A little later, a group of students had come to praise Bharucha, affirming that they believed that he was committed to the school and its mission. This prompted a debate between the students protesting and the students praising Bharucha.

The Cooper community is in for some more talks, debates, forms and forums throughout this ongoing the crisis. Details, opinions and plans will eventually be made clear with the vehicle of free speech. The atmosphere at Cooper, which has been set up to debate ideas and not to debase individuals, to verify facts before vilifying opinions, promotes free speech, and more generally freedom. And it has done so ever since the days of Lincoln. With the freedom to express ideas and the ingenuity of the community and everyone somewhat ready to band together and embark on a road to solve Cooper’s crisis, the best way forward will probably be found.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)