Category Archives: News

Financial Update: Jamshed Bharucha

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14) and Saimon Sharif (CHE ‘15)

There are many rumors circulating that concern the future of Cooper. With anxiety surrounding the upcoming meetings of the Board of Trustees growing at uncontrollable rates, we reached out to President Bharucha to give us a more clear picture of Cooper’s future.

The Cooper Pioneer: The last Board of Trustees meeting was on September 19th. Could you summarize the outcome of this meeting?

Jamshed Bharucha: The outcome was to set the stage for the next meeting (the December meeting) by setting out the timeline I had communicated to the deans and the faculty of the three schools. November 15th would be the date by which the faculties of the three schools would agree on a plan to go forward. I would integrate those plans and take them to the board meeting in December. That was basically the outcome of the meeting – a timeline.

The board would then digest the plans. including my own recommendations, and they might take some time to do that. So there won’t be an announcement in December, but in the New Year at some point we would announce any decisions that might have been made. At the board meeting, we talked about the three criteria that should be considered in the strategic planning that the faculty are engaged in.

The first is maintaining academic excellence. Cooper Union has the finest student body, bar none, in my opinion, and that is our great asset. Together with the excellence of the education and the excellence of the faculty, Cooper has an unparalleled learning community.

The second point is vision. The plans should be not just to solve a financial crisis, but an opportunity to position our schools and programs for the future. The future of the city, the future of the country, the future of the world.

The third is that the plans must be financially sustainable. All three go together and I’m happy to elaborate on any of those. So the board discussed all of those pieces, what might a vision be like, what constitutes sustainability, and why.

TCP: Is the financial sustainability criterion specifically just quantitative or is it also based on reliability?

JB: Sustainability has to include an assessment of the risks of that plan. Any plan has risks. And any plan has pros and cons. A lot of people come in every day telling me what the cons are and what the problems are about any given option, but a lot of people also come in with solutions and plans that are not only viable but very exciting. I think we need to focus on those.

TCP: In the event that the Board of Trustees decides to close one of the three schools, what would happen to current and incoming students?

JB: I said when I spoke in Rose Auditorium a year ago in October, quite forcefully, “I’m not here to close a school.” I’m a teacher, I’m an educator. I’m here to ensure that Cooper Union thrives. Thriving, to me, means that we continue to operate and we do so in a vibrant way.

Obviously, we’re in a tricky situation. We have to be mindful of all possibilities, but we have already stated in April that the class coming in the fall of 2013 would be admitted without any alteration of our policies and that would see that class through. Should any of our current policies change, they would only affect classes beyond that, except for the master’s degree in architecture. That degree, which is well established and attracts top students from around the world, would have a change in policy, starting in the fall.

TCP: I understand that it’s your role to make sure the schools do not close, but it is my understanding that in December, it is the purpose of these financial plans to decide whether the three schools are going to stay open. Is this correct?

JB: It’s more complex than that. It’s more subtle than that. The goal is to stay open, to survive and to thrive. In order to do that, the plan has to be sustainable. It’s almost axiomatic that if the plan is not sustainable, it cannot be sustained. I’ve said and I believe very deeply as a faculty member that the faculty is at the core of our educational enterprise. I don’t think any faculty member would disagree with that. I cannot impose a plan, nor can the board, and I have made it clear to the board that neither of us could impose a plan over the objection over the faculty ; it won’t work because the faculty are teaching the students. The faculty have to believe and support not only the educational programs that they provide, but also the philosophical basis of those programs.

So the purpose of the faculty focus this fall is for the faculty to find where they can agree on a model that has these components. Faculty agreement on a sustainable model has to be a foundational assumption, it seems to me, in order to be sustainable because you can’t have a successful institution if it is operating in a state of dissent.

Lincoln said: “A house divided cannot stand.” It’s the same thing at Cooper Union. Obviously there’s going to be disagreement, and not everybody is going to support every piece of every plan, but I think the faculty of each school must (and they are doing so with admirable commitment) come together to support a plan that is appropriate for that school. It’s also not a one-size-fits-all. Engineering is quite different from Art, even though we are a union.

I want to work very hard to find ways for greater collaboration between the schools, to bring the advancement of science together with the advancement of art. But the fact of the matter is that you are enrolled in a particular school and there’s a curriculum Even as we try to bring the schools together, it’s really the faculty of each school that understands best what’s appropriate for that school. Faculty support for a viable, strong solution that is academically excellent, visionary and financially sustainable is the goal here and is a prerequisite for what we do.

TCP: If one of the schools fails to meet one of the three criteria, however, what would then happen?

JB: It’s my job to make sure that it doesn’t happen. I’m not just waiting until November 15th. I’m working with the deans and the faculty. We’ve provided them with the resources in terms of expertise and consultants to cost out various plans and to look at the benefits and the risks. I’d say that this point, all three schools have bought into the process. We are committed to making something that works.

So there’s no point talking about the “what-ifs”. We can talk about all kinds of “what-ifs” but I think we’re here to make it succeed. I would say, as of today, we’re already at a point where the faculty are engaged in constructive dialog. Obviously if a school comes up with a plan we think is not viable, then I think the first thing we do is go back to the school and say, “this is a problem. Let’s try and fix it together.”

As long as there’s that will to engage in vigorous civil discourse and overcome differences, we’ll find solutions. Will they be easy? No. If you’ve seen some of the financials, you’ll see why. We can’t be sanguine. There might still be pockets of our constituencies who feel that there are solutions that don’t involve difficult decisions, or who feel that the financial problems are caused by this or by that, by the building or by an administrative bloat or so on and so forth.

I think you’ll see if you actually go through the numbers, that there is a long standing disconnect in the budget that goes back at least forty years that was greatly exacerbated in the early 1990s because of the falloff of the rent streams from the Chrysler building. That has been overcome through the years because of super-charged stock market returns, because of selling assets, because of borrowing, and now we’re at a point where there are no stock-market returns and we don’t have that many assets left to sell.

We’ve borrowed a lot of money and now it’s time to say, “Let’s make it sustainable.” The principle source that has funded the Cooper Union since the Chrysler building was built in the 1930s does not keep up with inflation, even with the lowest assumptions about inflation. Expenses are exponential, because of inflation. Higher education inflation is around 4% to 5% annually.

Even if we assume a 3% inflation, which would be the consumer price index for items other than healthcare, and then 7.5% a year for healthcare. Remember that benefits are roughly 9 million dollars out of our 60 million dollar budget. If the healthcare benefits are growing at 7.5%, you’ve got an exponential function where the expenses are compounding by a blended inflation rate that’s 7.5% per year for healthcare expenses and roughly 3% to 4% for other things. We can talk about shutting down this, or cutting that cost, and we’re looking at all the possible ways to cut cost.

But in the end, cutting costs brings down the y-intercept and shallows the exponential growth; but eventually the exponential function catches up. On how Cooper Union is funded, there are many funding sources, but the main one is the Chrysler building. There are two components to that: the rents and the tax equivalencies. The rents are on a step function with a flat portion of the step that goes for ten years. Now the next step up is 2018-19, when we get a big boost in rent. But there’s a mistaken belief out there that that solves the problem.

The reason it’s mistaken is that after that it’s flat again, the exponential cost function eventually overtakes that no matter what assumptions you make about spending cuts. The following step-up in 2029 is so small as to not be able to mitigate inflation, and you’ve got a situation of mounting deficits as far as the eyes can see. Actually this problem was known as early as 1969. It’s just that the institution took a number of steps: they closed Green Camp, they closed the physics programs, they sold the Bowery Bar, got rid of the Cooper Hewitt museum.

Those were all well-intentioned decisions to try to preserve the full-scholarship for all enrolled students. But as I see it now, we are at a point where we have to come up with a sustainable model. We have the time to do it while preserving academic excellence and being visionary. But if we wait too long, it becomes harder and harder to do something that’s visionary.

TCP: I don’t want to go too far into the “what-if”, but is it true that regardless of what happens with the Board of Trustees decision later this year or early in 2013, that all current students would be able to finish their education at the Cooper Union?

JB: Yes. All current students would be able to get degrees from Cooper Union, assuming they meet the requirements.

TCP: Last year, it was announced that the engineering grad school would start charging tuition. Where are with that plan now, exactly?

JB: Actually, that wasn’t quite accurate. The announcement was that we are going to lead with the hybrid model which was, and still is, the idea that the more revenues you can get from programs other than the undergraduate programs, the smaller the problem becomes. If you ever do have to go from 100% tuition scholarships to something less than that, the burden is greatly lessened by these other programs. The architecture graduate program will start contributing to their revenue target. If the engineering faculty decide that that’s not the place to go, that there are maybe other ways, then that’s an option. We have not actually decided that engineering master’s program will start charging tuition. It may happen. It may not happen. There may be new programs. There may be changes in our current policy. All of that is part of the planning process under way.

TCP: Do you have any closing comments that you would like to say?

JB: I do. I think that it’s really important to remember that in spite of all this, Cooper Union has a brilliant future. I assure all of our current students and former students that your degrees will be ever more respected and worthy as time goes on. We will overcome these challenges, not without controversy, not without difficult decisions. Anybody that tells you there is a straightforward path forward, I believe, does not understand the problem. It is complex and only can be understood if you’re prepared to understand the complexity. But we will overcome it.

The community is coming together as we’ve gotten more information out, through FAQs and other means. [Vice president] T.C. [Westcott] has met with people and continues to, and I meet with people every day to facilitate communication. Cooper has a brilliant future.

New York City is going through a renaissance. It’s the most exciting time in New York City’s history in easily half a century. I go to lots of meeting at the mayor’s office and with business leaders and educational leaders in New York. As you know, the mayor has launched this technology initiative to make New York a leading technology innovation city. New York is already a design center.

We at Cooper have, in some sense, many of the ingredients: we have a school of engineering, a school of art, a school of architecture and a faculty of humanities and social sciences.

If we can bring those together in exciting ways, which we will, we can position ourselves within this new New York renaissance, particularly since we’re in such a hot neighborhood as well as being one of the most exciting institutions contributing to the city, the country and the world.

I see this as opportunity – not without a lot of hard work and not without some bumps in the road. I can assure you that whatever plans we announce in January, they’re going to need modification because whenever you’re doing new things, you learn as you go along. We will come out at the end an even stronger institution. We will attract the very best students. We will provide an exciting education.

Looking back people will say that this was opportunity seized in the wake of a crisis. I hope that people will join me in doing that. I do think that in terms of the discussion in the community, understandably, there was anger and indignation because it was quite a bit of surprise that Cooper Union had these challenges.

But I think that as we go forward, the tone has become a lot more positive and constructive as people approach it from the point of view of “how can I learn the facts” and “how can we brainstorm solutions” and “how can we come together”.

Even though we might have differences, in a civic debate, however vigorous, if we can have those conversations as we are having now, in a constructive and respectful way, we should be able to demonstrate to the world that the country should be able to solve its problems. We are an educational institution. We can set an example for how people can come together, and perhaps our politicians can follow our example.

Peter Cooper wanted students to learn how to engage in democratic civic discourse, which means disagreeing vehemently but respectfully, based on fact and reason. People ask me, given all the protests, what motivates me, I have one word answer: it’s the students. Every time I get to meet with the students, whether it’s on Cape Cod with the athletes, whether it’s with the origami club or the class that I teach, or meetings that I have with students, I’m reminded of that. That’s why we’re here, is for the students. That’s why we will succeed.

Online System Update

Yara Elborolosy (CE ‘14)

As September draws to a close, the new online system that was purchased for the school, Ellucian’s (Datatel’s) data system Colleague, will (ideally) be ready for students to log in to as soon as this week, according to Dean Lipton. The students and staff will go through Web Advisor in order to use the system. At the moment, there is a fair amount of faculty that are already logging on. Once you log on, you are taken to a main screen where you indicate whether you are a student, faculty, advisor, etc. This takes you to another page where you will be able to see your transcript, progression towards graduation, financial aid package, and just about everything else you need.

This system will replace SAIS, which explains why recent attempts to log into SAIS haven’t worked. Faculty will have access to their class roster and will be able to find contact information for their students if needed. Students haven’t been able to log into the new system yet because IT has to ensure that every student has a working Cooper e-mail. Each student will be assigned an ID number and temporary password associated with their Colleague account. All of the old information is being transferred into the system and has to be double checked to insure there is nothing missing or inaccurate.

Colleague will have all of the offices collecting data from one source, eliminating any disconnect between offices. Every office will also have the ability to edit this one source of data, which may or may not be a good thing. While this ability to edit data may encourage more communication between various offices, it may also muddle identifying who makes edits to certain data.

There are still some details being hammered out, such as how advisement will be taken care. It could involve a student making a schedule they are interested in and sending it to their advisor, who would then offer the student their opinions and suggestions.

Everyone involved in working on the system has been working very hard to make it the best it can be and hope to have all students registered online by November, which at this point seems realistic. Colleague will be constantly updated s the school year goes on, and according to Dean Lipton will be good for Cooper.

Anyone who tried to pick up their financial aid check on Wednesday went through the wonderful process of being told they weren’t ready and to come back the next day, three times. On Friday, not only were financial aid checks not being able to print but almost no check could be printed.

In order to compensate, they did offer emergency loan checks but only for dire emergencies. Datatel, the new system that we are switching to, did manage to find the problem but are still in the process of fixing it. If you attempted to log on to sais, you were pleasantly surprised with the following page:

Interview With Dean Wolf

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

TCP: How have your first few weeks/month as dean been?

Alan Wolf: I’ve been working long days, 7 days a week. I always thought of myself as a hard worker, but this has been a whole new level of busy. I thought it would get worse once school started but fortunately, it’s calmed down. We had lots of issues simultaneously: we are transitioning from Agent, the system that gives us access to student records to a new system called WebAdvisor. Any database change like this is painful, but we made the transition at the beginning of a semester, when we had a critical need to access those records for advising. We’ve also had problems with Moodle, which now seem to be resolved. All of this as we are focused on plans for “reinventing” the institution. So it’s been an incredibly stressful last few weeks. It’s probably not easy transitioning to Dean at a normal time in an institution. This hasn’t been normal. I have a new respect for administrators who attend endless meetings and do a hundred things a day that are required for the day-to-day operation of the school, and still have to find time for the really critical large tasks.

TCP: Do you have any long term or short term plans as dean for the engineering school?

AW: Well I’m an Acting Dean so I won’t get to work very long on long term plans, although I hope to start some initiatives. My hope is to be back to full time teaching by next September. The dean search committee will be restarting the search for a permanent dean soon. Filling a position like this generally takes 6 months or longer. Even if we identified someone in the next couple of months, they’re probably a dean elsewhere. Their institution is entitled to a reasonable amount of notice.

In terms of short term plans, it’s very simple. The president’s welcome message says that the deans have to prepare by November 15th plans for the trustees. I’m coordinating that in the School of Engineering. What we have done is formed five subcommittees. The five subcommittees are: An undergraduate tuition subcommittee. A graduate tuition subcommittee. That’s a misleading name because that could actually be any tuition-charging-program that isn’t our current four year undergraduate program. So it doesn’t have to be a masters program. Those two committees are for revenue generation. The three others are not directly tied to meeting our financial targets. Our financial targets are that we (the School of Engineering) needs to raise 3 million dollars a year in within five years and 6 million dollars a year within eight to ten years, in 2012 dollars.

The three other subcommittees: one is a program on the undergraduate program, meaning studying what we can do to improve the quality of our undergraduate education. There’s a communication committee, studying communications within the school of engineering as well as the other parts of the school. Communications also includes things like the outside world getting to know about us. The last committee studies culture and community. How do we make the place more alive? student morale, faculty morale. It’s an interesting thing that at cooper when we have speakers come from the outside world, in most engineering schools, attendance at such talks might fill a large lecture hall. At Cooper, it’s often hard to get 5 people to show up for a talk. What is it about our culture that disinclines people to participate in events like this? The five committees are going to prepare their five separate reports. We’re going to work together to turn them into something integrated that we’ll turn into the president. He’ll bring that to the board early December to cogitate on the future of the school of engineering. So that’s the short term plan. Also we have ABET coming. ABET comes December 1st. They leave December 4th. The Board meeting is December 5th. So it’s an interesting week for us. We’re hoping to get a six year accreditation in each of the four degree-granting programs from ABET and we’re hoping the board looks favorably on our plan for the future.

I am optimistic. While we are looking at a daunting financial problem, we have President Bharucha and V.P. Westcott working incredibly hard to deal with these problems. Looking at new initiatives, considering every possible financial plan, looking for Angel donors. I’m astounded by their energy and their commitment. It’s amazing. T.C.’s been here for about two years, Jamshed’s been here a year. They’re showing the kind of commitment to the institution that you’d expect from someone who’s been tied to the school for thirty years. They are working harder than I’m working, and that must involve some sort of time-distorting relativistic effect. So I’m optimistic. If any pair of administrators are incredibly skilled and devoted and selfless, it’s the two of them. They are incredibly inspiring. The reality is that I accepted this job because I have confidence in the two of them and I wanted to be part of their team.

TCP: Do you have any comment on professor Uglesich resigning so suddenly?

AW: I sent out a letter to the juniors and seniors which was my comments followed by, unedited, what [Professor Uglesich] cared to say. I didn’t send it to freshmen since they’d be arriving at a school in which he was already gone and the sophomores never had him. But I thought juniors and seniors were entitled to see whatever it was he cared to say, so I asked him to prepare some remarks he wanted to share with the community. I was really sorry to see him leave. I thought he was a terrific classroom teacher. I thought he was doing a great job and I’m sorry to see him gone.

TCP: Do you have any advice to the freshmen?

AW: You can quote me on this: I’m not going to tell them to study harder. That’s usually what I say. The reason I’m not going to say that is because I’ve gotten feedback, very recently, from a few companies that have employed Cooper Students over the years. Here’s what they’ve said: they say that Cooper students are smarter than students from other engineering schools. But they’re less skilled at communications, at presentation of material and they’re less well rounded. So students need to focus on that too. Being an engineer is not just about grinding through calculations. It’s about interacting with clients, sometimes finding developing new business, preparing reports that communicate effectively. That means they need to develop their writing skills and their public speaking skills. It’s something students have to focus on. A lot of potential employers are looking for people who have people skills and communication skills. That means paying attention to Humanities courses and commuication workshops. Are you shocked to hear this out of me?

TCP: I am!

AW: This is a new position for me because I’ve been sitting in these sort of meetings in recent weeks. In terms of the financial crisis, current students, and even next year’s students, are grandfathered in for no tuition. It can’t be true that current students will get tuition bills. I think current freshmen should focus on their education and count on the efforts of these committees to fashion a plan for the school of engineering that will make us sustainable. If it wasn’t clear from Jamshed’s welcome letter, the plans for the three schools are entirely separate. We could have three different routes to survivability. Each of us have dollar target: the five year target for architecture is 1.2 million and for art it’s 1.8 million. For us it is $3 million.

TCP: Is that proportional to total students?

AW: It’s actually proportional to the total cost of each of the programs. Our share is half, is because it costs half to run the school of engineering. I think it’s a good thing that the fates of the three schools have been disconnected, because what is acceptable to the three schools as a means of survival or sustainability will likely be different. What makes sense for art might not make sense for engineering. But I think freshmen should focus on their education and put their confidence in very hard working faculty and administrators as well as very concerned trustees to pull us through this.

I was thrown out of Cooper in 1976 because we ran out of money. That’s when the math and physics degree programs were terminated. Here we are thirty-some-odd years later. We’re out of money again. This time the financial problem is more serious. But we pulled it out of the fire last time and I believe we will do it again this time. It’s going to require some serious reinvention of the institution. The president has emphasized that it’s not just about money, that there are also serious quality issues. He wants to ensure that we are not just going to meet our dollar targets, but that we have poised ourselves to be equal to the best.