Category Archives: Interviews

Thinking on the Page: Cooper’s How-To for Effective Writing

by Ruchi Patel (ChE ’18) and Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18)

IMG_2564

Photo by Ruchi Patel (ChE ’18)

Although incredibly intelligent, Cooper Union students aren’t particularly known for their writing abilities. Inspired by their students, humanities professors Gwen Hyman and Martha Schulman came up with Thinking on the Page: A College Student’s Guide to Effective Writing, a “how-to” book published in March of this year. The 328-page guide intends to get the good ideas that “bad writers” have onto the page in a way that makes sense to them and to others. 

Schulman: Writing is for everyone, whether or not you plan to read a literary work again after college. You have to tell people what you are doing whether you are a chef or an engineer or applying for a grant. You have to figure out what you want to say and you have to get it on a page clear enough so that some one else can read and understand it. And then you have to do without being there to explain it to them. You cannot—in a million years—do that right on the first or second try. Asking that of yourself is setting yourself up for failure. This book is here to teach you to communicate in any scenario.

Hyman: The theory behind the book is that most people are taught to write as if they are English teachers because they are taught by English majors.

Schulman: When students come and say that ‘I can’t do this,’ we just don’t believe that. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t amazing at something, and not everyone is equally amazing in everything, but if you have a brain that works that well at one thing, then that has to be harnessed and channelled into other things. There is no mystery or magic dust. We would give you the magic dust if we had it. There’s only work and knowing how to do that work in a productive way. You guys are passionate and you work hard. No one at Cooper is a slacker.

The authors acknowledge that humanities is not why students come to Cooper. But engineers, artists, and architects meet in the writing center and in HSS. Being able to interact with all three schools gives Hyman and Schulman a better perspective on how students think. The duo spent four years forming a theory of how to teach writing to aesthetic, visual learners, the kinds of learners one finds at Cooper. 

Hyman: From being at Cooper for so long, we learned that you guys work together. Engineers work in groups and artists and architects do critiques, all the time! Writers tend to think ‘Oh, I am just going to go into my room and work.’ But watching you guys work gave some value to how to bring that to your work.

Schulman: Writing comes naturally to me and I thought that smartness was the kind of smartness that I had. I taught at Columbia before here and those people were smart in a variety of ways, but they were super well-rounded, which actually made them really boring. Then I came to Cooper, and these students were so smart in ways that I wasn’t. I would ask an architect why she wanted to look at that passage and she would look at me like I’m crazy and say ‘Because it is so spatial.’ I’m thinking ‘It was? It is? Oh, yes it is!’

“Our title has two meanings. One, you get your thinking on the page, and two, the act of writing lets you see what you are thinking”

The duo then continued to talk about the setup of their book and how it is used to outline writings.

Shulman: How do we unpack that knowledge? There are charts, drawings, and dialogic journals to help visualize what otherwise might seem like “Oh, this is a dumb idea” or “This is all in my head and I actually can’t visualize it and get it on the page.” That is why the book is called Thinking on the Page. Writing is thinking and we think that until you see it, you can’t really use it or firm it up, or play with it, or do all the things you do in writing.

Hyman: It is no different than engineering problem sets. You can never do that work in your head. You pick up an idea or you follow a train of thinking and you see where it goes. But people are reluctant to take risks and ask questions as they would in other fields so a lot of our work is how do we get you to ask questions.

Schulman: That’s why there is a whole chapter called “Asking Questions: Generating Ideas,” because one of the big things we are interested in is the thinking process. With engineers, you need a huge trial of numbers as you figure out the calculus homework. You can’t just beam it onto the page. Sometimes you have to go back to middle and track it. But if you don’t have a record, you can’t do that. That is why we make a big distinction between the product and the process.

Grammar can sometimes get in the way of writing, and the book addresses this uniquely. 

Schulman: Sometimes when you don’t know what you are trying to say, the syntax gets all weird and convoluted because you are actually in a process where you are trying to fix it. The act of unscrambling will often rearrange the pieces to make sense and some sentences might even go away. First, we talk about it as a thinking issue and then we talk about  the grammar errors that suggest that you haven’t totally thought through the relationships.

Hyman: It is also a process-product issue. A lot of people try to fix the grammar as they are writing and doing that creates a problem for you because you can’t think and you can’t produce ideas and you can’t test things out because you are so worried about the grammar.

Schulman: You are also wasting time! The one thing about working in a pair is that there is always some working critique. We must have fine-tune edited 100 pages that never got near this book. Don’t do what we did! You don’t need to think about grammar unless you are lost in your own sentence, and that’s a thinking issue more than a grammar issue. When you know what pieces are actually going to be in your final product, you can clean up the grammar and the relationship between idea A and idea B.

Hyman: Writing is hard. And if it is not hard, then you are doing it wrong.

Schulman: Our title actually has two meanings. One is that you get your thinking on the page. But two: the act of writing lets you see what you are thinking and lets you then generate more thought. So it is a process that keeps moving, and if you stop writing and you don’t know how to continue, then you are stuck. In theory with this book, if you are willing to use it, you should never actually stay stuck. You should say “Okay, I’m stuck right now but I’m going to go back into the text and ask these questions and do a mind map. I’m going to have a technique.” Sometimes all it takes to get unstuck is to do something. It’s to move. Those three hours between 2-5 A.M. when you are staring at your computer—that is unproductive time! That is what this is meant to end.

Thinking on the Page

Image from Amazon

How did they make the book easy to understand to engineers, architects, and artists? We all see things differently…right?

Hyman: Even though people learn in different ways, there are more connections across the school that you perhaps don’t perceive while in school. In a way, you all are visual learners. You see the world differently than we do. This forced us to think through the project of the book and make it useful for everyone.

Schulman: Sometimes people get snippy about the other schools, but when you are all invested in the topic, there is suddenly like a huge knockdown fight about what the tower of hexagons in the History of Bable physically looks like. And there is an argument going on between these three different types of people who can all visualize it and know more about a hexagon than I do. And it’s the coolest. And we have that in a way that other schools don’t have. Even if it is at first reluctantly, you all come together. It’s kind of exciting for us.

Hyman: More or less, Cooper students have been our guinea pigs for all this time. So we know what works because we have tried it in the Writing Center and in our classrooms. The same thing does not work with one person as it does with another. We found that in our working style, Martha and I approach things differently. I outline. If I don’t have an outline I’m lost. So we have outline options and “so you hate outlines” option.

Schulman: We feel very fortunate that we have this opportunity. Cooper is unique in the world. The funny thing is we come from this place and we think this book actually works for many, many people who are never going to go to Cooper or want to go to Cooper. If it turns out that you are in nursing school, or a biology major, business major, or music major, or anyone else that may have been told in school that they are not good writers (or who are decent writers only because they color within the lines but don’t necessarily feel connected to it) you will find processes that would work for you. So when you find what writer you are, we tell you how to assess your work so that you can move on to the next stage.

Hyman: We really believe in this stuff and it is very close to our hearts. Writing is power. It is really a big deal for us to share then and instill it and get it out in the world. We would love for more people to learn this stuff and get access to it.

Exchange Students Tell Us What We Already Know… Plus More

By Monica Chen (ME ’18)

Study Abroad Students Shrikant Chavare and Manu Manso - photo by Winter Leng ChE '18

Photo by Winter Leng (ChE ’18)

Every semester, Cooper welcomes foreign exchange students to experience the culture of our unique community while living in the heart of the East Village. This year, students from Spain, India, Germany, and more traveled to New York to continue their studies in engineering and art. This interview features two students, Manuel Manso Morato (CE ‘17) and Shrikant Chavare (ChE ‘16). 

TCP: What did you expect your Cooper experience to be like before you arrived?

Shrikant: One of my major concerns before coming was that the other students who came before me were in a group of 4 so even if they had any problems or were feeling lonely, they could figure it out amongst themselves. This was a concern because I was the only one coming from India. So far, I haven’t faced any problems and overall, the experience is better than I had expected

Manu: I thought the people here were going to be more into studying and not as much into having a social life. Cooper Union chooses the most clever individuals from all over America, so I wasn’t expecting them to be as cool as they are.

What motivated you to study abroad?

M:  I’ve always loved the English language so I knew I definitely wanted to go to an English-speaking country. When I was 15, I did an exchange program in New Zealand with the American Field Service (AFS). It’s an organization that promotes intercultural exchange, and I came to learn that the world is way bigger than what I know. I was hosted by a really nice family in New Zealand, where I learned English and attended high school for 5 months. I was able to travel around both islands and to me, New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world, and I loved the experience. Since then, I’ve always wanted to live on my own abroad, and now that dream is accomplished.

S: I am interested in two options after I graduate: getting my Masters or getting a job abroad. I’ve also had experience working abroad for certain summers, but I wanted to know if I could sustain myself for the long term alone.

What made you choose Cooper when you were deciding on where to study abroad?

M: My university has a lot of agreements with other universities, but I did a bit of research on all the colleges I could apply to and Cooper Union was the biggest name on the list. Also, as a Spaniard, living in New York City was a unique opportunity; I could probably only have the chance of living in the middle of the East Village once in my life so I couldn’t say no to the opportunity. As soon as I got accepted, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to Cooper.”

How does Cooper compare to your colleges back home?

M: Burgos, my college in Spain, has 9,000 students and the engineering section is the largest one, so it’s very different though we do have very small classes right now because of the crisis in Spain. Also, our buildings and laboratories are larger, but obviously you can’t ask for that if you’re living here in the city. In Spain, I live in a very small town of 200,000, much smaller than Manhattan!

S: At IIT Bombay, there are at least 60 people in each chemical engineering class and for the common engineering classes, the number of students in each class sometimes goes up to 120 or 150. After coming here, there are a maximum of 25 people in a class so every student gets more attention.

Also, the exams here are less competitive than the ones at my university. After the first month of lectures, professors are required to give at least 2 or 3 exams every 2 weeks. In every class, there are several short exams, 1 midterm exam, and 1 final exam as compared to 1 midterm and 1 final exam in the classes here.

Best part of your Cooper experience so far?

S: The best part may also be the worst part because Cooper being a small school, you know everyone studying here. It’s not like you feel alienated and even if you meet someone new, you end up seeing them quite often within a couple of weeks and end up becoming friends. You basically know everyone when you go to a small school so if you have some problems, you know to ask for help.

M: The people and the location. The people were really open to me when I arrived. There haven’t been many foreign exchange students so that was a big shock for my classmates. As for NYC, there’s nothing bad I can say about it. I’m living in a wonderful location and I wish I could stay here longer for another semester.

Worst part of your experience?

M: Probably the price of the city. In the city, all the prices are all very expensive, including the rent. That’s probably the worst part — having to think about how to spend money when you’re here. I feel like Americans earn more money; in America you’re able to earn double what you could earn in Spain, but the living expenses are also higher in New York.

S: My university has 16 dorms, a football field, cricket field, a hockey field, and a huge residential area and a lake. There is around 800 acres of campus so even if you’re not in school, you can go outside and hang around. Here, if you want to play sports, you need to walk for 15 minutes to get anywhere.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done in the States?

M: When I arrived here, I spent 15 days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida chilling on the beach. Since I’ve started school, I’ve visited all of NYC and Niagara Falls with some of my classmates. This weekend, I went to Indianapolis, which was a 12-hour journey by bus, where I stayed for half a day then drove up north to Michigan, where I stayed in a cabin for 3 days without electricity. I plan on visiting Tom’s River in New Jersey during Thanksgiving. After classes end, I plan on visiting Washington D.C., Boston, and then Florida again before going back to Spain.

Lubalin at Thirty - Photo Credit Brenda So EE'18

Professor Tochilovsky on Thirty Years of The Herb Lubalin Center

By: Anthony Passalacqua (ME ’18)

Photo by Brenda So (EE ’18)

Curator of the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, Professor Alexander Tochilovsky sat down with The Pioneer last week to discuss the Center’s thirty-year history, expound on the significance of typography to design and tell us about legendary designer Herb Lubalin himself.

An overview of the Center

The Center opened September 10, 1985, and we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary with a glimpse into the collection here. The collection has grown immensely over 30 years and we wanted to do an exhibition showing that.

The stuff that we have is predominantly archival graphic design work. But we’ve been very active in trying to find a balance of material that’s more contemporary: books and magazines on designs and well-designed books and magazines; things that tend to be useful to students. It’s just such a great collection that students are always welcome to use.

Pulling books and resources for students is one of the main things we do, since we like to facilitate access to students and make it easy for them. We’re even open to researchers in the general public by appointment.

The exhibition is going to be on display until October 3, and is open ten to seven Monday through Saturday, and twelve to five on Sundays. We’re going to do something with the gallery that we haven’t done in the past: we’re going to swap out a big chunk of the show with new work halfway through so people get to see twice as much work.

On putting the gallery together

There were three people, including myself, who are curating the show, and we all worked on selection and curation. Several Cooper students helped as well and we have a thank you panel that lists them and other contributors. Whenever we do exhibitions it’s almost impossible to do them without student help, plus it’s a great way for students to get involved and see things behind the scene.

On the designers currently showcased

The show is broken into segments, and each segment uses the theme of thirty – so for the thirty posters that’s thirty designers. There are also thirty drawers pulled into the space that we use when researchers come. Each drawer has 15 individual designers, and with 9 drawers that makes about 150 different designers on view right now.

When we swap everything out there will be not quite double, but about 200 individual designers on view over the totality of the show.

 On the significance of typography to design

Typography is integral to design. There is always language in graphic design, and typography is what shapes that language, it’s what gives it form. When it’s done well, typography allows the viewer to access the information faster, better and to get as much out of it as they can.

A lot of small details that go into how we read are understood intimately by typographers. For example, many books are set where the column width is too wide, and that makes it harder for the eye to follow along. Most people have experienced this: you’ll be in school, reading, and you have kind of a glitch. You read a line twice or three times over and that is usually caused by a flaw in the typography. If typography is done well, reading is long and uninterrupted because you’re not aware of the shapes of letters. If people can get information out of text language in the quickest and easiest way possible means the typographer did a good job.

Graphic design is very much about ideas; about visual description and aesthetics. You don’t want the typography to be in the way, but you want it to be a cohesive and harmonious part of the overall design. There is a legacy and history of typographic posters — work that doesn’t have any imagery except typography. A lot of designers specialize in finding solutions without having to rely on images or illustrations. The whole thing is language.

Herb Lubalin was one of the people who opened the boundaries for graphic design. Without Herb, typography would not be such an integral part of graphic design. Today it’s a very valid way of working, where you can say I don’t need an illustration or a photograph, I’m going to make the whole thing conceptually through type. And it’s huge! Before 1950, that didn’t exist.

On the work of Herb Lubalin

Herb was one of the people who was influential in creating that shift into typography and starting to make work that was conceptually all typographic. It was still playful, interesting, and engaging, but he was making type do things that type didn’t do before. He was really, really good at it. He was good with language: he was sensitive about how things were phrased, an understanding of the brevity of language, and was an expressive writer. Fundamentally, he understood the balance between what words said and what they look like.

He created a huge body of work that is based on that balance between meaning and form, but he also took on a lot of really interesting projects that were socially very important. He is a good model of designers to follow — for how to do good work, and how to find clients that are not necessarily chasing the money. He was never about the money, but rather in just doing good work.

He had a very varied career. He created a number of typefaces with collaborators, and designed magazines, books, book jackets and logos. A lot of the design work that he did is still in use. Once in awhile, people come to the Center to look through work, and they find a logo that they never knew was a piece by Lubalin. They’re stunned something is still being used since they 60’s. Even his editorial design, which is less known, is equally as strong.  He left a great legacy within typography.

On his personal favorite works

There are a lot, and it was very difficult to make the final selection for the show because there’s so much stuff that I like, but I had to make tough choices due to space constraints. In particular there’s a drawer of the work by Fred Troller, a Swiss born designer who worked in New York.

We have the work that he did for a pharmaceutical company in the sixties. His pharmaceutical design was some of the best design made anywhere – it was that good but rarely seen. Most pharmaceutical design was made and sent directly to doctors so it was rare for the general public to see these things. Sadly most of the work has disappeared, because even if it was really beautiful, it has a different kind of dynamic and doctors just didn’t keep it.

However, we have things that are really, really beautiful, and we are fortunate to have those pieces in our collection. It’s stuff that very few people have seen before, an amazing glimpse into a very vibrant industry, of how good graphic design was within the pharmaceutical industry versus how poor it is now. So we have a drawer of Fred’s work, and we have another drawer just dedicated to pharmaceutical design.

In general, my favorites are pieces that don’t necessarily get into design books, but are just amazing pieces. I try to pull the hidden gems people haven’t seen before so people can experience beautiful work.

 On design outside of the art school

I think because there are so many moments in the architecture and engineering career that you have to present work and projects to a small audience, a good sense of typography makes it so much easier to present information in a clear way.

An understanding of typography also means a better understanding of visual hierarchy. Being able to use typography to your advantage to highlight things that are more important and downplay things that are less important can be used to lead the viewer through the presentations in a very clear and concise manner. Type is built for that.

A lot of the things that architects and engineers do, specifically for students, can use typography to make information come through much faster. Placement, size, color of type, typeface choice; they accentuate the visual hierarchy in an easy manner.

Even going as basic as a PowerPoint, presentation tools have pretty sophisticated control of typography. Unfortunately the defaults and templates that are built into Power Point and others are clunky. But if there’s a good understanding of how type is utilized, then all of these presentations and documents can be done in a much more clear and productive way. Ultimately, you want people to get as much information as they can out of the presentation.

When it isn’t used well, typography creates distracting moments, preventing the viewer from penetrating the work and extract information. That’s crucial everywhere, but especially so in engineering and architecture, where there are sort of shiny flashing types of things that can distract the viewer.

Dean Stock - Photo Credit Winter Leng ChE'18

Interview with Acting Dean Stock

By Pranav Joneja (ME ’18) and Krishna Thiyagarajan 

Dean Stock - Photo Credit Winter Leng ChE'18

TCP: How were you asked to be Dean? Who specifically asked you to take the position?

RS: In May of last year, I was meeting with Bill Mea and Peter Buckley on a number of issues, including faculty union business. Bill Mea asked me if I would consider taking over as Acting Dean if the situation were to arise. We had a long discussion and at the end, I decided that if asked, I would consider it. But I would not apply or seek it out. If the job came along and I took it, I would step down from the leadership of the union and the chairmanship of chemical engineering. It would otherwise be nonsense to hold both titles: Acting Dean and President of the Faculty Union. That would be a conflict of interest. In early August, Bill Mea asked me and I agreed. About a week later, announcements were made to set the start date as August 10.

TCP: So what was happening from May until August?

RS: People had asked me before but no one was certain exactly how things were going to pan out. Jamshed Bharucha and Teresa Dahlberg left at the end of June, and after that, Bill Mea was just getting his ducks in a row though July. One of the actions Bill took, which in my opinion speaks to his understanding of transparency, was that he spoke to the faculty and staff, both in the engineering school and at other schools, asking for their ideas about who could be Acting Dean. He did a lot of legwork before he made his decision. It was a long, but straightforward process.

TCP: What is happening to your position as the President of the faculty union (Cooper Union Federation of College Teachers, CUFCT) and your position as Chairman of Chemical Engineering?

RS: Peter Buckley was the Vice President of CUFCT, so he’s now stepping into the presidency of CUFCT. At the end of last year, I had one more term of my chairman position, so Irv Brazinsky is going to step in and finish my term. The chemical engineering department is pretty lean at the moment because Professor Daniel Lepek is on sabbatical. In that regard, having Brazinsky chair the department is the most pragmatic thing to do, as he has so much experience.

TCP: How have things been for you so far in your position as Dean of Engineering?

RS: Thankfully, I’m still teaching one course every semester. Right now, it’s Senior Chemical Engineering Design, which is a fun course to teach. So far, I would say being Dean is a torrent of emails. (During the hour-long interview, the writers counted at least two dozen audible email notifications from Dean Stock’s computer). It seems that everybody wants to keep me in the loop, so I get all the emails. There are a lot of things that I still need to learn. I’m not rushing at it. I’d much rather be able to understand it and do it right, than mess it up.

There is a lot of technology and databases, such as WebAdvisor, that I now have elevated access to, but I really haven’t had time to play with it. My view of administration is that, while it’s important to ensure the bureaucratic system is operating correctly, it’s so much more critical to interact with people. I’ll eventually get up to speed with technology.

You know, it’s funny: since I was conferred the position, virtually everybody has been saying to me “Congratulations! …Or should I say condolences?” And I tell them, I don’t have an answer…yet.

More seriously though, both Bill Mea and I have the word “Acting” in our titles. In other words, we find ourselves in a situation where the previous people in these positions are gone and we’re in a bit of a mess. What this really means, to a certain extent, is that I’ve been presented with a shovel and people are looking to me and saying, “Okay, dig us out (of this mess)!” That’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to establish a period of stability in the Engineering school and I want to refocus everybody on just excellence in engineering education. I want to achieve that and improve it more in the future.

Right now, I don’t want to get into the discussion of whether Cooper should or should not charge tuition. Down the road that’s going to be sorted out and mechanisms are being put in place to do that.  But one of the best things that we can do as an engineering school, regardless of whether we charge or don’t charge, is to do as well of a job as we possibly can.

As a school, I think that we have been confused about our governance and how we operate. Frankly speaking, I think that confusion has been fostered deliberately in the past and I want to get that clarified. I want to clarify how the committees work, who they answer to, and determine their composition, whether they involve administrators, faculty and/or students. Above all, we’re doing it in a way that is transparent. For example, we’re making sure meetings are documented, where it is appropriate, and that people know about them.

TCP: What about closed votes? (Closed or anonymous votes are a situation where individual votes are not recorded.

RS: In the past, closed votes arose in situations in which there is perhaps some controversy, like the curriculum or faculty tenure committees. My understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order is that if a staff member sets a closed vote in motion, there is no discussion. You just vote as to whether you will have a closed vote, and then simply have a closed vote.

TCP: What tasks do you find most difficult as Dean?

RS: I was surprised at the number of deep individual issues that sometimes occur in a student’s life. Until now, I wasn’t entirely aware of the ways in which Cooper Union as an institution can and does provide support, for example through people in student support roles, like Chris Chamberlin. We need to rally around and make the situation supportive, perhaps by proposing a year off, or with advice to do this or that, because these issues can be deeply challenging to the student.

I find the depth of discussion among the administration and faculty very surprising. It’s all guided by the question “What’s the best thing that we could do for that student?” Even in the turmoil that has gone on over the last few years, everybody has worked hard to make sure that the education is still good, and that students are supported throughout their time here. That is one of the key, enduring aspects of Cooper Union. Everyone wants the students who come here to succeed in this environment. Sometimes that’s difficult, but I love the way people rally around to make it happen.

TCP: This seems to tie into the Academic Standards Committee (ASC). Do you still serve on that?

RS: No. Before the fall of 2014, Brazinsky was on the curriculum committee and I was on the ASC. We swapped for purely political reasons. The chairmanship of the curriculum committee is rotated among the different departments, and at this time, it was about to be transferred to the chemical engineering department. At the time, Brazinsky was not as aware of the issues that were going on in the school as I was, so we decided to swap. That means Brazinsky was on the ASC last year, while I was appointed chair of the curriculum committee.

Among the reasons for the swap was the fact that we knew difficult discussions were coming down the line in the curriculum committee. Certainly in the fall semester, there were some contentious meetings I presided over. And then later, there were even more contentious meetings in the Academic Standards Committee.

“Acting Dean Stock did not explicitly state what happened during these ‘contentious meetings.’ For added clarity, the editors elaborate on this reference to the proposed curriculum for the Computer Science Program in another article in this issue.”

TCP: In many students’ minds, the Academic Standards Committee decides who stays at school and who leaves school. Does the role of the ASC exist outside of that realm? What else do it do?

RS: If you want to find a committee that works really well at The Cooper Union, it’s the Academic Standards Committee. Professor Vito Guido, who has been the chair for a very long time now, runs a very tight ship. He keeps us on point. Typically, we don’t know which students are coming up to the ASC until very shortly before the meeting. The actual content of the meetings are, again, really deep discussions as to what is the right thing to do for a particular student. Sometimes, it’s fairly straightforward. Other times, it’s much more difficult. It frequently involves all sorts of things that happened outside the academic sphere.

Occasionally, there will be a request for us to consider something. ASC, for example, has to sign off on everyone who is graduating. Occasionally, we get a senior who is finishing up in the fall semester. We might conduct an online discussion and vote on whether the person graduates or not.

TCP: What is happening with the search for the future dean?

RS: At the moment, there isn’t one. The Board of Trustees is gearing up and working out the details of how it wants to do the presidential search. The concept is that it would be better to appoint a new president, and then, after the proper search and appointment, give the new president the opportunity to run his or her own search for the dean. Assuming the presidential search goes well, I will be in this position for two years.

TCP: Is there any chance that Acting President Mea might stay as the permanent president?

RS: As far as I know, there is nothing to preclude him from putting his name in the hat to be considered. However, I’m not sure whether he’s thinking along those lines. We haven’t had that discussion.

President Mea has been at Cooper Union for only a year. He’s looking into the future, but he’s cautiously taking it a day at a time. So, nothing can be concluded at this time.

TCP: Please comment on the recent legal settlement reached between the Board of Trustees and the Committee to Save Cooper Union.

RS: In my opinion, it is a very good thing. If you read the document published by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), it is making Cooper Union do things and I don’t see any of that as bad for Cooper Union.

The representation of different constituencies on the Board: though some of them are non-voting, at least it opens up communication that has not been open before. The faculty members, for example, are observers and they’re essentially there to talk if they’re asked. Still, they can at least report non-confidential information back to their constituencies.

Whenever I’ve had a conversation with the member of the Board in the past, it was always the case that I was telling them something that they didn’t know. I have observed that one of the central reasons has been misinformation, or even no information, getting to the Board. I think opening up those pathways of communications with the board is valuable. I think the fixing the governance issue is valuable. I think the financial focus is very valuable.

I’m convinced we can operate within our means. We should maintain a student population of 950. Our aim is to do those things as an undergraduate school better than anyone else does. I think we can do it within our means.

Having third party oversight prescribed by the Attorney General in the form of the Financial Monitor is a valuable thing. We have demonstrated in the past that we need guidance. That may make some people uncomfortable, but the record states that quite clearly.

No one wants heads to roll; no one is going to go to jail over this. Still, the fact that a group of people was courageous enough to bring the lawsuit is highly appreciable. The fact that this piqued the state’s attorney general was essential as well. The involvement of his office has been immensely valuable.

I will go on the record to state the first time I was phoned by the office of the AG was in September of last year. The attorney general had enough circumstantial evidence from his investigation, without doing any depositions or subpoenas. If he had gone through depositions, information damaging to the Cooper Union’s reputation would have been released. We are fortunate that this step was not necessary.

Following the AG’s release of the documents on September 2, people began asking me, “Where are we now?” And to that I reply, “Imagine you’re in a swamp and you’re up to your hips in some muddy, slimy, stinky water. You’re surrounded by mist and you have no idea which direction to go in.  The mist lifts and in the distance you see hard ground. Now, you know where you’ve got to go. In order to get there, you still have to wade through all the grime. There are still a lot of things that we have to do. Most of it is not going to be hard for us compared to the previous years, because we can see the hard ground. There are still financial issues that we have to solve. And governance issues that we have to solve. It’s especially important to get governance right in an academic setting. We are nearing a solution, but we still have to do work to achieve it.

TCP: What role did the faculty union play in the Attorney General’s investigation?

RS: We worked very hard to keep the faculty union out of it. If the union got involved, we would taint the lawsuit from the point of view of the petitioners. Additionally, we would have damaged the union.

Besides, the issues they were bringing up in the lawsuit were not primarily issues of labor. Simply put, it wasn’t the union’s business.

 

Jess and Devora - Photo Credit Sage Gu CE'19

Interview with Jessica Marshall (EE ‘17), Student Representative to the Board of Trustees

by Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ‘18)

Jess and Devora - Photo Credit Sage Gu CE'19

Welcome Jessica Marshall (EE ‘17) as she joins Devora Najjar (ChE ‘16) as the new Student Representative to the Board of Trustees. In light of the events of the summer, Jessica agreed to sit down with The Pioneer in order to discuss the future relations that students will have with the Board of Trustees.

The Cooper Pioneer: What is the role of student representative to the Board?

 Jessica Marshall: The purpose of the student representative to the board is to act as a liaison between the students and the Board. Basically, I am to express things that the administration might not know. For example, the sentiments when we were about to be charged an ‘overload fee’ for registering for more than 19.5 credits. Yes, it’s talking to students and getting their opinions, but it is also informing them.

I like to think I have a ‘bigger picture view’ than most students and keeping that bigger picture to myself would be counterproductive. At a school this small, there should be no reason for any misinformation. It’s my dream to have a centralized location where people can go and ask a question at any time of any day and have it answered in an unbiased way. That is what I see the role as: informing both sides. To quote Devora Najjar, “I don’t in any way see this as being a position above students.”

It’s scary because once this year is over, the people who have experienced the occupation [of the President’s office] will be gone. People who experienced the lock-in in Peter Cooper’s suite will be gone. People who experienced the building of the NAB are already gone.

Besides my own efforts, I think Nonstop Cooper is doing a lot, too. But you have to take the initiative to go there.

TCP: What are some things that you have already done since assuming this role?

JM: I haven’t really done much yet; I just started in June.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that I will be on the Presidential Search Committee, alongside alumni, trustees, and faculty representatives. In addition, I’m hosting a pre-presidential search forum in the Nonstop Cooper space next Friday. I’m bringing trustees there for students to meet.

TCP: The Board went through some notable changes this summer. In what ways will that impact the future of this school?

JM: Five Trustees resigned from their roles before my first meeting with the Board. They are Mark Epstein, Francois de Menil, Catherine Hill (President of Vassar College), Monica Vachher, and Daniel Libeskind.

It seems that everyone who stayed on the Board has at least expressed interest in fixing the school. There are no more Jamshed Bharucha supporters. There are very few people stuck in the past since most of them are looking for ways to solve the ridiculous financial mess we got ourselves into.

TCP: What are some of your goals as Student Trustee?

JM: I want everyone to like each other. I know it still seems that when I’m in Trustee meetings and I talk about students, or when I’m in student meetings and talk about the Trustees, that there’s still some animosity. It’s very easy to blame a group of people from either side, or to have a certain view of them that isn’t completely true. It’s getting better, but the average student still doesn’t know who the people on the Board even are. And the same goes for the Board understanding students.

Part of what I want to do, like I’m doing next Friday, is to bring Trustees to campus and bring students to the Trustees.

TCP: Both you and Devora Najjar are engineering students. Student Trustees are supposed to represent the entire student body. In what way do you represent artists and architects?

 

JM: Being an RA has given me the opportunity to get to know students in my year and the years below me, regardless of what school they are in. I also bridge that gap by hanging out in studio a lot. Moreover, I go to microdances a lot, which is predominantly attended by students in the art school. I make myself visible and known to students of other schools because you can’t do your job successfully if you are only representing half the school. I talk to a lot of people.

We actually tried really hard for them to add two more students so that we could get participation from all three. However, Kevin Slavin and Richard Lincer said there would be too many cooks in one kitchen. This is why I encourage artists and architects to run for the position next spring because now we have a vote and we can do things. Please run!

TCP: What are you most looking forward to in your role as Student Trustee? How do you see the role changing over time?

JM: If you read the Attorney General’s consent decree, it outlines how the Student Representative position is being phased out at the next board meeting on September 16. They are going to pass a bunch of new bylaws that will increase the number of alumni and student trustees. I’m going to be a full-fledged student trustee with a vote.

They’re also going to pick another student trustee from the two candidates who ran against me last spring. One of us will have a one-year term, while the other a two-year term. From then onwards, elections will proceed as they have in the past: students vote on nominees and the three candidates with the greatest number of votes will be interviewed by the Board. From those, the Board will select one to become a student trustee. Elections will be staggered such that each student trustee will serve a two-year term, overlapping the previous ones. It’s kind of happening right now with Devora and myself, where she is the old hat and I’m learning from her before her term ends in December 2015.

Student trustees will truly be part of the Board, with access to executive sessions and membership on the Governance, Free Education, and Presidential Search Committees. The role of the Free Education Committee in particular is to propose a strategic plan to return Cooper to being free. Basically, on January 15 of every year, starting in 2016, the committee is to present to the Board the possibility of being free again. However, this won’t happen for a long time because our finances are still pretty bad. (Read the Attorney General’s cross petition and consent decree for more background.)

TCP: Why did you want to take on this role?

JM: I didn’t. I didn’t want to do it. This is going to sound awful, but when it came up second semester last year, my first thought was, “No, it’s a huge responsibility that I don’t think I could take on. It’s such a big role to represent the community.” I spoke to some art students who seemed disenchanted with everything. Everyone who I thought would run didn’t want to run.

I saw a lot of people wanting this position for wrong reasons. Unfortunately, a lot of people realized it is a great thing to put on your résumé. People who had never attended student council meetings or gone to Free Cooper meetings and had never spoken with professors about things. People who didn’t understand how hard previous students fought for this role. Basically, I wanted to run with enough other people who cared so that no matter which of the three the Board chose, it would be someone who would do it for the right reasons.

Devora has often said, “It’s the person in the role who makes it.” It’s important that the person in this role pushes the boundaries that Devora has set and try to make it something more than it already is. A lot of this is really time sensitive. That’s the thing with Cooper. Nothing is ever stable. If I never email a Trustee or never talk to anyone, then the boundaries will shrink back and I would be reducing the power of the students.

That being said, I do think that our next student trustee should not be an engineer.

TCP: How do you think this “turnover,” both of administration and settlement of litigation, will impact Cooper Union’s standing?

JM: It’s definitely positive. Mea manages our finances, and now he is in charge of the entire administration. Somehow, he still finds time to meet with students. I’ve said this before: the fact that we consider that so rare at Cooper is indicative of where we were in the past. We have seen a lot of positive change with the fact that Acting President Mea has met with students on all sides of the opinion spectrum. If you email him, he will set up a meeting with you. In fact, he’s going to be at Nonstop Cooper on Wednesday, September 16.

But he’s got a lot on his plate. I also think that (and this was echoed at a Nonstop Cooper meeting) while it’s great that the administration is doing all these wonderful things, this is what they should have been doing all along.

Up until this point there has been a lot of pointing fingers, and playing the blame game… it’s been a culture of infighting. My hope is that we can end that this year and focus on the bigger problem of our finances.

It’s like we are in a sinking ship and everyone has a bucket. The water is filling the ship, but instead of bailing the boat, last year we were splashing each other. You can splash all you want, but you are still going down together. Now that some people have jumped off the boat, let’s start bailing ourselves out together.

Please join Jess and members of the Board of Trustees on Friday, September 18 at 6:30 P.M. at Nonstop Cooper to talk about the impending presidential search.