Category Archives: Interviews

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.