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A Free Institution

Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Cooper Union Origami’s David Yurman Windows

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

If you walk by the David Yurman designer jewelry store in Manhattan (as well as three other locations nation-wide), you’ll see a 33’ origami torus made of 105 sheets of hand-cut paper. These creations are covered with approximately 35 red origami berries. The “berries” have LED’s wired into them so that they light up at random intervals, making the model twinkle.

These displays were created by The Cooper Union Origami Club.

The fact that all four displays were designed and constructed in less than a week makes them even more incredible. Origami Club president, Uyen Nguyen (ME ‘14) says that “the timing was our greatest challenge…the group effort was amazing, and I was personally touched by the incredible amount of effort my club members put into this. I honestly believe that, of our group’s current regular members, had we been down by even one person, we would not have finished the job. I am amazed and thrilled by the dedication my members have to this club.”

The idea of having origami as a window display was proposed by Richard Barrett, who works for David Yurman. He was unsure of what to do for a window display but when he went to Parents’ Day at Cooper because his son is an architecture student, he saw President Bharucha talking about the Origami Club. The Origami Club had made the President a torus and Richard Barrett thought that origami would be a good idea to use in their holiday window display. Richard Barrett then contacted student services, who then contacted the Origami Club.

Approximately 300 man-hours were spent making the torus. The club pulled consecutive all-nighters to finish the torus. Uyen describes it as a “club meeting that lasted more than 72 hours.” Harrison Cullen (EE ‘15), believes that “[he] couldn’t find a better group of people to fold paper with…while horribly sleep deprived.”

All compensation that The Cooper Union Origami Club received for their work will be donated back to Cooper. If these displays inspire you to fold something amazing, join the now-esteemed Origami Club!

Cooper’s Hurricane Sandy Response Team

Sean Cusack forward by Yara Elborolosy (CE ‘14)

Hurricane Sandy affected people in seven different countries and in twenty-four states across the U.S.A, killing two hundred and fifty three people and costing at least 65.6 billion dollars, 63 billion being in the U.S. alone. 41 Cooper Square lost power initially and tried to use a back-up generator to compensate but the back-up generator failed by the next morning. Inspirational stories of people helping out those devastated by the storms could be found in every newspaper and now, the Pioneer will thank Cooper’s own personal heroes. This article was kindly provided to us by alumnus and adjunct professor Sean Cusack.

In the dark of the power outage, with no sign of the early morning light outside, figures are dragging industrial equipment up the stairs. It’s the Thursday after Superstorm Sandy, and the 1-Megawatt diesel backup generator had failed. Jeff Hakner (EE ‘91), and Jody Grapes, Director of Facilities, are carrying a smaller spare gasoline-powered generator up eight flights of stairs to the Alumni Terrace and within reach of the computers that need electricity. They and a small group of staff and engineers arrived before the police-enforced 6 am curfew to check critical systems, repair any damage that might have occurred, and prepare the campus for the next few days.

A week earlier, with forewarning about the storm, the systems seemed to work according to plan. Cooper was ready with a day’s diesel in its generator, in case of temporary blackout. The fuel could be stretched if additional facilities were shut down. But sometimes, fate intervenes.

The generator kept up with demand for eight hours during the blackout, then suffered a failure due to low oil pressure and went dark. The computer systems were abruptly shut off in the middle of operation, and with the computers down, so went and email.

Administration reacted and called in tech specialists to repair the generator, but soon discovered the problem went beyond the low oil pressure. The local team didn’t have the parts necessary to discern or repair the problem. A new plan was hatched on Wednesday night by President Bharucha, TC Westcott, Jody Grapes, and Bob Hopkins to bring up critical systems and to restore internet and email service and the website if possible.

Back on the 8th floor on Thursday, the gasoline-powered generator that is usually only utilized for small outdoor lighting and power tools is only 3500W, barely enough to run a few of the servers behind the computer center. Jody, his team, and Jeff get it running outside on the Terrace – the generator cannot run indoors due to the risk of carbon monoxide.

Meanwhile, on the 10th floor, engineers continue to work on the diesel generator but even the service tech can’t get it up and running; the main repair team from Detroit Diesel will have to come in. They won’t arrive in time during this blackout.

Jeff splices custom power extension cords and runs wires from the Terrace into the server room behind the Computer Center. Each server takes almost 1000W, so there’s not much room for error keeping basic services alive. After removing the redundant backup power systems and pulling line cards in the servers to reduce the amperage draw, email and internet come up.

Jeff is able to fix the hard power-off software issues. For now everything is running on the gasoline, but there is not enough fuel to last for very long. Unfortunately, the natural-gas powered Co-Gen plants in both buildings – though they work properly – can only share load on existing ConEd power lines, and with the ConEd lines dark, the Co-Gen Plants cannot provide power. With some modification they could be independent but that’s something to plan for another time.

As the gasoline starts to run out, the team looks for any nearby source. But just like everyone else in Manhattan, they find it impossible to access any. This time, knowing that another outage is coming, Jeff properly shuts down all the systems so they will be easy to reboot when the power is up. Cooper goes dark gently. Come Friday morning, there is still no gasoline to be found and Jeff Hakner is driving through Connecticut searching for some when he gets the call that ConEd will soon be bringing the power up. When the lights all turn on again in the East Village, Jeff is able to bring the Cooper Union systems back up remotely from his home, thanks to shutting them down correctly the evening before.

On Saturday morning and with driving restrictions still heavily enforced, Brian Cusack (ME ‘01), takes a 3-hour bus ride from central New Jersey into the Port Authority and, with the subways still shut down below 34th Street, catches a cab down to Cooper. He spends the morning plugging the line cards back in and replacing the redundant power lines. After removing the low-power usage special settings put in place two days earlier, he brings all the other servers back up to normal. The web is up! Datatel also seems to have suffered no serious damage, though it will be until the next week before that is officially running, thanks to more effort by John Kibbe.

Thanks to the hard work and long hours of Facilities, Security, and the Computer Center staff, and despite an unforeseen generator failure, Cooper had power while many did not and was running full-steam ahead by the beginning of the week immediately following Hurricane Sandy.

2012 Election Summary

Matthew Lee (ME ‘15)

Tuesday, November 6th marked the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. President Obama won the election with 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, a notable drop from then Senator Obama’s landslide victory over Senator McCain of 359 over 179. In addition, the 2012 popular vote was won by only about 3,000,000 votes, where the 2008 election carried Obama by more than 10,000,000 votes.

This year Obama won more votes from non-white voters, young voters, women, and those in big cities. Romney won more votes from college graduates and those with higher incomes.

Republicans lost 2 seats in the Senate, which were replaced by 1 Democratic and 1 Independent Senator. In the House of Representatives, Republicans lost 9 seats, Democrats gained 2, and the remaining 7 Representatives are of neither political party.

This election had some other notable results. This election marks the first time since 1820 that three consecutive incumbent presidents have been re-elected. Due to Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey voters were permitted to email their votes in, the first time in history this has ever occurred. Two astronauts voted from the International Space Station. The first Asian-American Woman and the first Buddhist Senator was elected in Hawaii, Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Mrs. Hirono was a member of the House of Representatives, and her successful election gave way to the election of the first Hindu Representative, Tulsi Gabbard.

For the first time, marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. Medical Marijuana is currently legal in 18 states. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Maryland, Maine, and Washington. These three states are the first to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, rather than by legislation or litigation. Minnesota became to first state to reject a state-wide constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. 38 states currently have same-sex marriage bans, 9 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and 3 have no laws for or against same-sex marriage.

Your Flu Shot Counts: Get One

Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)

On Monday, November 12, 2012, the Cooper Union offered students, faculty, and a staff a free flu vaccination, attempting to entice the community with a chance at winning an Amazon gift card and the opportunity to throw a pie at Dean Wolf’s face. Although the latter was only allowed should 60% of the Cooper population get vaccinated, which we failed to accomplish, an estimated 230 people (roughly 25% of the school) got the flu shot that day. An additional 70 people had also received a flu shot, either from Cooper’s October flu shot program, or from CVS, Walgreens, or their family doctor, meaning that for all intents and purposes approximately 30% of the school has received the 2012 vaccine.

What does this mean for the Cooper community? For starters, almost 1 in 3 people we meet in the halls, on the staircases or in the Foundation Building will have been vaccinated. So suppose there was an outbreak of the flu in the school. Dean Wolf provided a computer simulation, written by Shane Killian and modified by Robert Webb, whose work has been featured in PC Plus Magazine, written to mathematically model what might happen in the case of an outbreak. I ran a simulation with 30% of the population inoculated, to see a possible outcome:

At the end of this simulation, 99.63% of the people who were not vaccinated got the flu, while 50.58% of the people who were inocculated got the flu. Of course, this is a very general stochastic mathematical model, which may not be the most accurate model of what might happen to our instituition, should there be an outbreak. The model assumes a population of 800 while our population is closer to 1100. This model also seems to assume complete and total interaction of the population, which is not necessarily what happens to the extent the model presumes.

Moreover, the model also seems to assume that the people who are vaccinated are randomly dispersed throughout the population. However, the data suggests otherwise – 22% of the students of the School of Engineering received the vaccination, while 18% of the students from the School of Art and 20% from the School of Architecture did.
This model may well be a best case scenario for the school, which should be a very sobering fact. Had 80% been inoculated, we would have reached “herd inoculation” which would have protected almost all of us.

However, there is one thing that this simulation does tell us which is unfortunately even more dour – the flu virus is an incredibly contagious disease.

This year’s vaccination tackles three different strains of the virus – one influenza A H3N2 virus, one influenza A H1N1 virus (swine flu) and one influenza B virus.

All three are particularly nasty and someone getting one of these during the school year, introducing it into the school would not bode well for many of us. Many people don’t appreciate the difference between the common cold and the flu. Flu symptoms are often much worse, and can last for up to two weeks.

There is however at least one good thing that did come of this: those who were vaccinated have a reduced chance of getting the flu, as will the people they associated with, according to some studies. Also, if you are vaccinated, and still get the flu, your symptoms are likely to be less severe. Still, despite the extended hours for getting a flu shot and the relative ease of getting a shot – at best roughly 30% of the school is vaccinated. What might be attributed to the low turnout?

One possibility is that the hours did not work for all students. And while it is true that the School of Art, School of Engineering and School of Architecture have different hours, it seems unlikely that ten minutes could not be spared by more people. Dean Wolf believes that, in part, the low turnout was due to some misconceptions that students have about the vaccination itself.

As he went around the school on Monday night, advocating all get the flu shot, he had encountered some students who believed that because they ate healthy and exercised regularly, the flu shot was not necessary. Some believed myths about the flu shot – such as that it gave Alzheimer’s or autism. None of that is supported by medical science, for the record.

There is another possibility, and it is the case with so many other times in life – people figured that “everyone else will do what needs to be done (get a flu shot), so I don’t need to. But failing to get a flu shot because you believe others will is free riding on the sanitary responsibility of others.”

The numbers from this round of flu vaccinations at Cooper do not indicate that to be a safe bet at all. The safest, and wisest, thing to do is to get the shot because you will be protecting your health and the health of others.

Cooper’s Sandy Relief Efforts

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Hurricane Sandy has been the talk of 2012 fall season. Sandy brought many inches of rain and, in some areas, snow, but was most destructive in coastal regions where there were storm surges 9-12 feet above normal. From stories of despair to inspiring stories of community building, Sandy has helped many people identify what things are most important in their lives.

To help the New York City residents who need the most aid, students, faculty, and staff at Cooper have gone above and beyond in efforts to restore communities. Below are some of the many ways Cooper’s various clubs and individuals took part in Sandy relief efforts.

The Society of Women Engineers, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and Hillel Cooper collected donations for New York City Urban Project’s Feed500 relief effort.

Students prepared and distributed necessities to affected areas, shelters, and relief organizations. Not only was this an inspirational gathering of volunteers, individuals connected with other individuals affected by the storm who had the same strong spirit and motivation to rebuild and recover quickly.

For an entire week, the Origami Club made everyone getting onto the elevators or going up the Grand Staircase stop in awe of origami creations. Suggested donations and auctioned off pieces raised a little less than $2000.

Zeta Psi organized a pie throwing contest to raise money. A food and clothes drive was also organized where all proceeds were donated to the Red Cross.

Intervarsity organized a sock drive to collect socks for those still in the dark or without shelter.

School wide events included a relief breakfast where Zeta Psi organized a pancake breakfast that lead everyone to Frankie’s and a benefit concert where the Coopertones, CooperNova, Sons of Pitches, President Bharucha and other Cooper musicians preformed.

Grand Staircase Handrail Update

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

Last year, I spoke with Vice President T.C. Westcott about whether or not there are plans to install a handrail on the Grand Staircase. She confirmed that a handrail was indeed in the works but was not sure when construction would take place. This month, I sat briefly sat down with her again to see where we currently are with these plans.

The Cooper Pioneer: Are we still going to install the handrail?

T.C. Wescott: We are still going install the handrail. The holdup at this point is that we are on the eve of getting the final certificate of occupancy for our new building, and filing new building permits prevents that from happening.

So the way new buildings work is that when you move in you get a temporary certificate of occupancy, which is standard. Actually some buildings that have for a very long time still have only a temporary certificate of occupancy and we don’t want to be in that group.

We’ve renewed our temporary certificate of occupancy as we’ve finish the remaining pieces. You need to close out all your permits, all your applications. Our tenants have to close out all of their applications to do work. Once that happens, the fire department comes in, the building department comes in, everyone comes in to do a final check off. Then you get your final certificate of occupancy. If you have open permits, you can’t get your final certificate of occupancy.

We’re just on the eve of that, so I’m told. Now, the building departments, I’m also told, run on their own time schedule. So we’re waiting to get that final certificate of occupancy so we can begin the work. We have to file the permit. Installing the handrail is a big job, so we have to have a permit.

So that’s the holdup at this point. But we’re still putting it in; it’s just a question of when we finally get our certificate of occupancy. Then we’ll move forward with it.

TCP: Last time we met, you said that Thom Mayne was going to submit a design.

TCW: We actually did get a design from one of the architects at Morphosis and we are working with some engineers and other to make sure we understand how the handrail needs to be installed. It’s a pretty straightforward design. Nothing as creative as some of the handrails I saw in the Pioneer, but consistent with the style with the staircase at this point.

TCP: Approximately when would you say this is going to be installed?

TCW: I shudder to say when at this point. I’d like to be able to say within in the next few weeks, but it’s up to the department of buildings. Once they get through the various things that they’re doing, we’re doing one last thing with the fire department. I’d like to say very soon, but last time I said it was going to be ready to go, I was found to be incorrect. So as soon as we get the certificate of occupancy we will commence work on that. As long as there’s a reasonable break; we can’t have students all over the place when we do it, but we may decide that that may make the most sense.