All posts by Pranav Joneja

Alumni Trustees Meet the Candidates - Photo by Winter Leng ChE '18

Alumni Trustee Elections: Why Should Students Care?

by Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

The consent decree, an agreement brokered by the New York State Attorney General that settles last year’s lawsuit, requires that alumni must have greater representation on the Board of Trustees. To that end, the Cooper Union Alumni Association (CUAA) is holding a “Special Election 2015” with 23 alumni candidates on the ballot and a great deal of attention from the wider community. That sounds great for alumni — but why should students care?

Like most things, there’s a short answer and a long answer.

The short answer:

The inaction and indiscretions of the old Board of Trustees played a significant role in making tuition at Cooper a reality. The make up of the Board is finally being turned over right now and we need to be sure that Trustees elected now will not only have better practices, but also enact the changes necessary to return Cooper Union to free. Ultimately, students are going to be most affected by the next Board of Trustees and so students should be informed and get involved with the election of the new Trustees.

The long answer:

The Board that has been at the helm for the last 10 years — the same Board the Attorney General describes as having promoted misleading financial information to the public and having failed to show effective internal control, governance and transparent communication — is being changed from within. Among the strongest clauses in the consent decree is the requirement that “all Trustees who served on the Board of Trustees on October 6, 2006 shall have their terms expire on December on December 7, 2016” and none of them can be reappointed ever. In simple terms, old Trustees are on their way out.

Change is happening right now. Most recently, on November 11, Board Chairman Richard Lincer announced that Cooper Union’s bylaws have been amended. In accordance with the consent decree, the new bylaws require the immediate election of two additional Alumni Trustees. This is CUAA’s Special Election 2015. One newly elected Trustee will begin his/her 4-year term in December 2015 and one will begin in June 2016, but both will be elected during this Special Election. This 4-year window is where Cooper Union is best poised to return to free.

What Lincer didn’t explicitly mention in the announcement is that Monica Abdallah (ChE ’17) was formally appointed the title of Student Trustee on November 11, joining Jessica Marshall (EE ’17) as a full Trustee with voting powers and fiduciary duties. Both Abdallah and Marshall directly represent students, but they must also communicate and engage with other Trustees. Special attention must be paid to how newly elected Trustees will get along with the student Trustees. For this reason, students can and should be aware of the Alumni Trustee Special Elections.

“Special attention must be paid to how newly elected Trustees will get along with the student Trustees.
For this reason, students should be
aware of the Alumni Trustee Special Elections.”

Session 2
Candidates on stage at CUAA’s event on November 9.

On November 9, the CUAA hosted a Q&A session with 19 candidates for Alumni Trustee. Wes Rozen (Arch ‘05), instructor at the School of Architecture, moderated the discussion by asking the candidates specific questions. He asked the candidates about how their particular backgrounds support their candidacy and posed pointed questions about how they would deal with certain issues if they were elected.

The candidates were not shown the questions beforehand, so they were put on the spot. As such, their responses revealed their true opinions and stances. But with only 60 seconds to respond, some candidates weren’t able to dig deep enough to reach the heart of the questions asked.

Candidates answer questions at the CUAA Meet the Candidates event on November 9. From left to right: Adrian Jovanovic (BSE ‘89), Victoria Sobel (Art ‘13), Richard Velasquez (ME ‘94), and Rob Marano (EE ‘93). Photos provided by CUAA
Candidates answer questions at the CUAA Meet the Candidates event on November 9. Clockwise from top-left: Adrian Jovanovic (BSE ‘89), Victoria Sobel (Art ‘13), Rob Marano (EE ’93), and Richard Velazquez (ME ‘94). Photos provided by CUAA.

(The opinions in the latter half of this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the opinion of The Pioneer as a whole).

What’s particularly worrying is that some candidates perpetuated certain ideas that are troublingly similar to opinions held by former administrators and old Trustees. That’s not to say these ideas shouldn’t be discussed or that the candidates who brought them up are ill-suited for the job necessarily. In fact, it’s all the more reason to identify what these opinions are and gain an understanding of why they may (or may not) be ‘problematic,’ for lack of a better word. Listed below are three examples, paraphrased from the candidates themselves, followed by the beginning of a considered argument:

(1) “Treat donors as investors” leading to “what can donors/investors get out of Cooper?” Cooper Union’s primary focus should always be within the community, not on those outside it. Seeking funds from the public, particularly corporations, should never take precedence over students or academic programs. Corporate investments into co-op programs or research seem like the ultimate “win-win-win” situation — but only superficially. On the surface students gain valuable experience, the school is enriched with much-needed funds, and corporations benefit by attracting talent. In reality though, these investments don’t directly support the ideals of free education and do little to actually raise academic standards.  Instead, the benefits to the corporate donor greatly outweigh everything else. (There could, however, be opportunities for professional societies and clubs to foster such corporate ties.

(2) Cooper Union in the “education marketplace.” The marketplace is saturated with bigger, better-endowed schools that can afford amenities and facilities on large campuses. Cooper cannot and should not be among those sprawling schools, so chasing the same goals doesn’t make sense. If anything, Cooper “competes” by embodying meritocratic ideals and demonstrating a paradigm of free education.

(3) “Master Plans.” The context in which this phrase was brought up was to have a definitive plan in place for returning to free. Indeed, the aim is in the right place and making plans to achieve those goals is typically a good idea. However, “Master Plans” are unilaterally defined by a small group of people at the top — not what Cooper Union needs right now. The consent decree calls for the creation of inclusive committees, like the Free Education Committee and the Presidential Search Committee, where the entire community is directly involved in the reformed governance throughout the process. In a word, recent governance reforms mean that we finally have a chance to elect Trustees who will engage the whole community. A top-down, “Master Plan” approach undermines all of this.

The failures of former President Bharucha’s administration showed that policies guided by the ideas above are not only unrealistic but also harmful if they are enacted. These contentious opinions have been compiled here so that students can identify them clearly and hopefully respond in an informed way.

On the flip side, there are candidates who stand for ideas more conducive to Cooper’s two most immediate missions: healing the community and returning to free. Among these candidates are those who say, “We have to get our house in order before we go about seeking multi-million dollar donations.” To that end, these candidates understand that the real problems are actually structural and cultural. Moreover, they will affirm that Cooper’s financial situation is a symptom of those issues.

As elected Trustees, Jessica and Monica are duty-bound to voicing the opinions and needs of students. The candidates who set their sights on the most immediate path to healing the community and directly reinstating free education will engage best with Jessica and Monica once they are elected. And together, as Student and Alumni Trustees, they will collectively have both the mandate (the support of their constituencies) and the agency (the power to vote on the BoT) to fix Cooper Union.

The Cooper Student’s Guide to Halloween 2015

By Robert Godkin (ChE ’18) and Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

We at The Pioneer have compiled a short and easy guide for your NYC Halloween experience, and hope that your last week of October is eventful and less stressful post-midterms.

What: New York’s Haunted Hayride
When: October 28-31, 7-11pm
Where: 1 Randalls Island Park

As one of New York City’s most exciting and frightening Halloween attractions, the Haunted Hayride, located in Randall’s Island offers people to ride in a hay-filled cart through scary and surprising pop-ups and attractions.

What: Daybreaker: Mad Hatter Halloween Boat Cruise
When, October 30, 6:00am (that’s not a typo, it’s a sunrise thing)
Where: Pier 40

Are you a smart cookie who managed to schedule no classes on Fridays? Do you just not sleep anyways? Climb aboard the Hornblower Infinity at 6am this Friday to kick off your Halloween weekend on a freakin’ boat!

What: Come As You Are/Express Yourself 80s & 90s Party
When: October 30, 10:30pm
Where: Littlefield, Brooklyn

“It’s gonna smell like teen spirits at the skint’s Come as You Are/Express Yourself 80s & 90s Halloween Party, dedicated to the campiest holiday of the year. Why waste your fabulous costumes on just one night? So take our priceless advice and let your freak flag fly. Dress up as a ghost, a ghostbuster, Pizza Rat, your Aunt Sally — we won’t ask any questions. The best costume will be rewarded with a prize!”

What: Murder and Madness and Poe
When: October 31, 2:30pm
Where: Bronx Library Center: Auditorium

The New York Public Library is sponsoring an event in the Bronx, where Michael Bertolini stars as Edgar Allan Poe, reciting poetry, playing music, and giving reads from the late mystery author.

What:  The 42nd Annual Village Halloween Parade
When: October 31, 7-11pm
Where: 6th Avenue North of Spring Street to 16th Street

The 42nd Annual Village Halloween Parade is for all to watch, participate, and have a good time. Festivities include costume contests, themed performances, and lots of music.

What: The Cityfox Halloween Experience
When: October 31, 10pm
Where: Secret! Location to be announced (somewhere in Brooklyn). It’s always somewhere in Brooklyn~!

So you have a bunch of money that you don’t know what to do with? You wanna turn up with “scary good artists” playing thumping EDM so loud you can’t hear your friends? Sounds like every Cooper student I know! (Don’t forget your fake ID!)

What:  4th Annual MoMA PS1 Halloween Ball
When: October 31, 8pm
Where: MoMA PS1!! It’s in the title, silly.

“The clock strikes midnight, and your cab just turned into a pumpkin.” Head over to MoMA PS1 for a party that is guaranteed to be LIT! You will wish you had gone to when you’re scrolling through your Instagram on November 1.


Old Dorms. Photo by Winter Leng (ChE '18)

The (Old) New Dorms: A Preview

By Tanya Dragan

The following article is reprinted from an issue of The Pioneer published on April 29, 1992.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 15 [1992], a group of more than 50 current and prospective students as well as a handful of parents and administrators, embarked on an extensive tour of the new dorms (or “residence hall,” as the administration is quick to remind us.) In small groups, the curiosity-seekers ascended to the roof in the “passenger hoist” (the construction workers’ name for the outside elevator), and trickled through the floors, examining the as-yet unfinished apartments. Devoid of kitchens, bathrooms and doors, not to mention furniture, the apartments were not quite the finished product, but gave everyone a clear indication of what will be.

Most floors consist of four apartments—two 4-person apartments, with two double bedrooms; a 3-person apartment with one double and one single bedroom; and a 5-person apartment, with one single and two double bedrooms. The third floor has three “loft-style” apartments. These lofts are to house four, five and six people. These apartments are one large room, without any divisions, which will enable living there to let their imaginations run wild (to a point), and utilize the space in any way they desire. The six-person loft, which faces 9th Street, seems spacious, even around the piles of sheetrock which were stacked in the middle. The four- and five-person lofts, while interesting in that they are split level, with only a half-wall separating the two levels, are ensaddled with a “panoramic” view of the roof next door.

Each apartment has a kitchenette, consisting of a sink, gas burners (no oven), microwave oven (for the frozen food gourmet), and a half-sized refrigerator (for the new “family” of five or six, this may be a rather tight squeeze). Other tight squeezes may be the bathrooms—many of which have only stand-up shower (as opposed to a full bath), and the lack of closet— only 5-person apartments have any. All other apartments will have to do with “clothing storage units.” All in all, the apartments are not overly spacious, and bring to mind a saying an Australian friend of mine had: “Not even big enough to swing a cat round by its tail.”

The dorms will not be without any amenities, however. The dorm will house two common rooms: a large one, “designed for student activity,” as the brochure describes it, which overlooks, and during warm weather will no doubt overflow onto, the fourth floor terrace, and a smaller television room on the fifth floor.Each apartment will also eventually be linked to a central computer.

 “Each apartment will also eventually be linked to a central computer.”

Another big plus (especially for nature buffs) which will be enjoyed by the whole area, and not just dorm residents, is a small “viewing park” which will occupy the area enclosed by 3rd Avenue, 9th Street, and Stuyvesant Street. The Cooper community had initially wanted to close off Stuyvesant Street in this area, extending the park to the doorstep of the dorms. This would have enabled the restaurants to extend outdoors in nice weather, and give the dorms a feeling of a “lawn.” Community opposition, however, citing the threat of homeless squatters, city bureaucracy, and the expense waylaid these plans. The cost of the smaller park will be upwards of $400,000! (Anyone willing to start a fund?) This park will be important—both in improving the area aesthetically, and continuing the environmentally-conscious theme of the dorms. Many students think it’s a great idea, long overdue.

Several apartments in the dorm will not be for housing students. One of these, by far the most popular with the tour, is the duplex for visiting scholar(s). Although it has a rather narrow staircase, the two floors and nice view were admired by all. Closely following the duplex in popularity is the resident manager’s apartment which overlooks, and will most probably have access to, the small terrace on the west side (3rd Avenue side) of the building. The resident advisors (RA’s), however, will not live in such luxury. Contrary to popular belief, they will not be living alone in an apartment: rather, they will have their own room in apartment. They will, however, be living rent-free—in exchange for the responsibilities and time they will need to put into their job.

“The dorms will cost each student $480 a month”

The cost of the dorms, with respect to their size, was a major topic of discussion during the tour, as it has been since the cost of rent was first announced.The dorms will cost each student $480 a month, regardless of where he or she will live. Many students are of the opinion that a $2,000 a month apartment, which is essentially what  a four-person dorm will cost, is rather expensive, especially as utilities are not included in this cost. (Each apartment will be billed separately for its own utility use). If the apartments were bigger, many claim the cost would be worth it, especially as it’s possible to get a comparably-sized apartment in the area for less. Conversely, the cost includes the convenience of the location, the fact that the building is new, and security. The consensus most often reached was that the dorms will primarily house underclassmen coming from afar, and that once they become familiar with and assimilated to, the area and life in New York City, they will venture out on their own, in search of better bargains. Either argument is valid today: price and size vs. proximity and security; the answer will have to wait until the dorms are lived in and experienced. Perhaps even then, the answer will not be concrete. So, for now, bring on the “dorm-ites” and let’s see! ◊

The (New) New Dorms

By Brenda So (EE ’18)

Laundry facilities at the new dorms. Photo by Sage Gu (CE '19)

Laundry facilities at the new dorms. Photo by Sage Gu (CE ’19)

The student population at Cooper Union has grown, and it is increasingly difficult for Cooper to accommodate housing needs, particularly for first-year students. The old dorms, located at 29 3rd Avenue, only accommodate up to 180 students. Consequently, last year Cooper explored other housing alternatives, ultimately deciding to take up an offer to house students in a new dormitory development at 200 East 6th Street — now called the new dorms.

The new dorms are part of a one-year agreement with Marymount College for the current academic year. When asked how the deal came about, David Robbins, Director of Housing & Residential Education and Programs responded, “In mid-February, Marymount reached out to me directly through email. They said that their new dorms is going to fill 275 students, and they were planning to fill the building.”

Cooper decided to accept the offer after talking to Chris Chamberlin, Dean of Students, Bill Mea, former Vice President of Finance and Administration and current Acting President, and Mitchell Lipton, Vice President of Enrollment Services. Robbins commented that at the time of the decision, “I realize that my application for housing were way over what I could accommodate in the old dorms, so we signed a one-year agreement with them to try it out. The alternative was to tell forty freshmen that we don’t have housing for them.”

“The alternative was to tell forty freshmen that we don’t have housing for them.”

Cooper occupies floors 7 to 10 in the new dorms. There are currently 69 students living in the new dorms, 34 of which are freshmen while the rest are upperclassmen. The three RAs who work in the new dorms are all seniors since half of the Cooper students residing there are upperclassmen.

In terms of space, the new dorms have a large variability between the sizes of different bedrooms. On the one hand, there are double rooms with a floor space of around 150 square feet, which are considered by many residents to be too cramped. On the other hand, there are rooms with 180 square feet of space that Marymount College assigned as triple rooms, but are considered too small by Cooper, and hence are assigned as double rooms. The costs for both types of double rooms are the same.

In comparison, in the old dorms single bedrooms have 100 square feet while double bedrooms have 150 square feet. Although the A-line bedrooms are significantly smaller than the rest, only three students reside in an A-line apartment.

While the old dorms cost $5,780 per semester, the new dorms cost $7,750 per semester. Some might wonder why the cost for the new dorms is so high, and also whether it costs Cooper anything. According to Robbins, Cooper neither profited nor lost money in the deal – all costs for renting the floors Cooper occupies are paid directly by the students residing there. It is a zero-sum deal.

“Cooper neither profited nor lost money in the deal – all costs for renting the floors Cooper occupies are paid directly by the students residing there. It is a zero-sum deal.”

In compensation with the high cost of rent, the new dorms provide a range of facilities, including a study lounge, a gym room and a bike storage space in the basement. The terrace is also open at all times for students who want to go out and enjoy the Manhattan view.

In response to questions and concerns from students about the new dorms, Robbins spoke about both the strengths and drawbacks of the new dorms. While students get to share and enjoy the facilities in the new dorms, the variability of room sizes prevents students from knowing how big their rooms would be before they arrive on move-in day. Moreover, the apartments in the new dorms are temperature controlled by thermostats, while in the old dorms the temperature adjustments are limited.

Despite the technological advancement of the new dorms, Sahil Patel (EE ’18), who currently lives in the new dorms but also lived in the old dorms as a freshman, told The Pioneer that although the new dorms are cleaner and much closer to Cooper, “the rooms in the new dorms are significantly smaller than in the old dorms…there are no dining tables, so you cannot work with your friends. If you want to live next to Cooper and live in a clean dormitory, the new dorms are a potential option.”

Amy Yen-Chia Feng (ME ’18), an RA in the old dorms, expressed concerns on the division between the old dorms and the new dorms. She said, “A lot of our events take place in the Menschel and it’s a bit harder to get freshman living in the new dorms to come. It’s also harder to foster a sense of community in the new dorms.” Despite these concerns, she is optimistic that the senior RAs who live in the new dorms “are doing their best to make up for that.”

Looking to the future, Robbins said that there would be a meeting between him and the students who live in the new dorms in October as an evaluation. Chamberlin said, “David Robbins and I will evaluate student satisfaction with the new residence hall and determine if we want to pursue continuing that arrangement for another year.” ◊