Op-Ed: On Authenticity

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

When I saw the subject line “Important Update on Student Representative to the Board of Trustees,” I knew exactly what would be contained in that email. A quick scan was more than sufficient, as we’re used to the language at this point: one paragraph starts with “Unfortunately,” another with “It has now come to the Board’s attention.” In sum, “[T]he Board will not consider a candidate.”

It didn’t have to be this way. The position in question – a student on the Board of Trustees with no voting rights – is a very high priority for much of the student body. The Board is presumably aware of how widely disliked they are amongst the student body, and this position would have begun to build up a stronger, more trusting relationship between the students and the Board. From a purely political perspective, this would have been a great way for the Board to throw us a bone.

While the ethics of the dilemma have been frequently discussed over the past week, one question persists: if the Board of trustees pride Cooper on its student body, why don’t they trust their students? If we are, as we are frequently told, the best, brightest, hardest working and most creative students in America, why is the Board so hesitant to get us involved?

This isn’t exclusively a Board of trustee issue. On October 14th, Dean Dahlberg gave a presentation to the Engineering School about her vision for the school followed by a brief Q&A session. After a student (full disclosure: it was me) mentioned “The Way Forward,” she brushed it off, immediately dismissing the work of many hard-working, well-informed and good-intentioned members of the Cooper Community. When questions about tuition persisted from students, Dean Dahlberg told us, with a wagging finger, that she would not answer any more questions since she “didn’t come here to talk about [tuition.]”

In one fell swoop, the new Dean treated the engineering student body less like the brilliant students she told us we are, and more like a group of unruly children. After a self-assured and knowledgeable presentation, this condescending gesture was surprising but certainly not shocking.

I am reminded of the shenanigans that occurred in the Great Hall on April 23rd. Mark Epstein announced that tuition was going to be charged to new students in Fall of 2014. This was followed by a Q&A session, but instead of allowing audience members to ask questions by raising their hands or passing a microphone around, audience members had to write their questions down on index cards. Epstein then sifted through the cards, only answering those that he did not deem insulting. An audience member shouted “this method of asking questions is insulting,” which was followed by a round of applause. I can’t remember Epstein’s response; the content of his answer is nearly irrelevant. But I remember that diminutive tone that we’ve grown so accustomed to.

The list goes on. I’m sure we can all remember a time when a member of the administration spoke down to us. They broke agreements in order to keep us from helping them, they boarded windows and bathroom doors to specifically avoiding confront us, and they treated us like children every chance they got. If the student body isn’t what they love about Cooper, what is it about Cooper that they love?

Maybe they love our faculty whom they underpay and whose union they are constantly battling with. Maybe they love our wonderful facilities including our brand new multi-hundred-million dollar building that has eleven classrooms in as many floors. Maybe they love Peter Cooper’s legacy, which they are so eager to redefine. Maybe they love our centurial-precedent of providing full-tuition scholarships to all students.

My purpose is not to question the motives of the administration; it is to ask them to be consistent. The administration cannot have it both ways. When we’re being referred to abstractly as The Cooper Union Student Body, we are referred to as hard working and authentic students. When we have actual interactions with the administration, we’re treated like second-class members of the Cooper Community. It’s hard enough to be a student at Cooper Union and it’s only made more difficult by the financial crisis. The least we can ask is for the administration to stop bullshitting us. ◊

If you’d like to further discuss this op-ed, feel free to email michel@cooper.edu.

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Interview with Stamatina Gregory, Associate Dean of Art

Anamika Singh (Art ‘17)

The Cooper Pioneer recently conversed with Stamatina Gregory, the newly appointed Associate Dean of Art, via email.

The Cooper Pioneer: What was your first experience with Cooper Union?

Stamatina Gregory: It was somewhat mythic. I attended a small parochial high school for girls in Brooklyn, and the claim to fame by the very inspirational art teacher there was that one of his students had gotten into the Cooper Union. Right then, as an aspiring painter, I decided to apply. But by the time I was a senior, though I was very interested in contemporary art, I had begun to identify as a reader and writer, rather than as a maker. So I studied art history and German literature at NYU, near Cooper–but also far away from it—so it’s interesting to be here in a very different role.

TCP: Can explain your role as Associate Dean and the responsibilities that come with this position?

SG: My role is extraordinarily varied within the school—I’m already involved in many different initiatives in programs, assessment, and development. I work closely with the Dean on day-to-day operations of the school, on developing new graduate programs, and I’ll also be working on accreditation, which is a cyclical and ongoing process. At some point I anticipate teaching also, and I’m really looking forward to that.

TCP: You have extensive experience with a variety of colleges and universities. How do you believe these experiences will influence your coming time at Cooper Union? What drew you to the Cooper Union?

SG: In the past, it’s been wonderful to work with a really diverse student body at CUNY, working to reach students primarily interested in things outside of art, as well as having both abundant resources and savvy students in the Ivy League. But Cooper is the best of all worlds: an extraordinary and diverse student body and a faculty of artists making some of the most critically important work today. I’m always interested in digging under the surface of the art world as part of my practice, and that inevitably leads to the foundations of how we construct artists in our society–through pedagogy.

TCP: With the new policy of tuition being instated next year, what changes do you see occurring in the School of Art?

SG: Change might be less tangible to me than to someone who has spent much of their career here. There are changes tied both to tuition and to the ongoing effort to avoid it, and that is the development of excellent graduate programs, which is positive. Even having been here only a short while, -remaining an active place for social critique and institutional critique – a longer process rather than the short reactions generated by crisis. [sic]

TCP: What are some visions you have as you assume this position?

SG: I would love to see more interdisciplinarity. Truly exciting projects are being forged between architects, artists and engineers out there in the world, and it would be good to find some platforms and initiatives for that to happen meaningfully here. And of course, I want to continue the school’s engagement with important institutions and practices outside its walls.

TCP: How has interaction with the faculty and student body been so far?

SG: On the whole, excellent. Although, more than any other place I have been, Cooper unfolds slowly: it seems like a very tight and complicated family, with memories and histories and loves that run deep.

TCP: Do you have a personal motto or mantra that you apply to your professional career?

SG: I love the idea of a personal mantra, because it seems so stable and soothing. But we work in a world in which beliefs and assumptions can and must be subject to change, and that includes how I approach my work. One question I continually ask myself in my work is: so what? What is it about this project or job or conversation that is meaningful now, and what is at stake? It’s both a place to end, and a place to start. ◊

Photo Credit: Vincent Wai Him Hui (Arch ‘15)

Sports Update

Yara Elborolosy (CE ‘14)

The soccer team left on Friday to head out to Cape Cod for training for the season. The men’s basketball team just had its first official game with the New School. They also recently had their Alumni game, where graduates who were on the basketball team come back and play against the current team. The scores are listed below. ◊

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Faces of Cooper: Andrea Newmark

Chae Jeong (ChE ‘16)

The Cooper Pioneer sat down with Andrea Newmark, chair of the Chemistry department, to discuss her education, seeing her former students grow up, and the importance of communicating.

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you from?

Andrea Newmark: I grew up in Brooklyn. I went to Boston for school for two years and then ended up back in Queens. Now I’m on Long Island. So, I’m mostly a city person.

TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

AN: I graduated Queens College with a Bachelor’s in chemistry. Then I applied to Columbia to what they called the 4-2 program, where if you had a bachelor’s in science you could get an engineering degree. So, I ended up going to Columbia for a master’s in chemical engineering and stayed on for my Ph.D. The department at that time was chemical engineering and applied chemistry. My research ended up being more towards the applied chemistry so that’s how I ended up here. I graduated Columbia in 87 and came straight to Cooper. I went right from grad school to teaching.

TCP: How did you first find out about the Cooper Union?

AN: Actually, when I first saw the ad for a chemistry professor, I thought that it fit me perfectly, and even though I grew up in the city and went to school here, I hadn’t heard about Cooper until I saw that ad. Although, once I mentioned it to my mom (she grew up on the Lower East Side) she told me that she had heard of Cooper Union, but I never did.

TCP: What brought you to the Cooper Union?

AN: When I first saw the ad, I knew it was right up my alley. I had the mixed background of chemistry and chemical engineering… they were looking for a chemistry professor, but it was an engineering school so it was a great fit. That’s really one of the reasons why I came. I also loved the location, the whole history, but it was also a great fit.

TCP: What is your role in Cooper?

AN: I’ve been the chair of the chemistry department for the past… I guess this is my fourth year. I’ve been a chemistry professor to the freshmen and juniors, mostly. In years past, I was a freshmen advisor, but I haven’t done that in a while. I feel that apart from teaching the chemistry classes, I like to teach students about life, about what they’re going to see when they go out into the “real” world and about how to be good people. I feel like that’s my role.

TCP: How do you like your job at Cooper?

AN: I love my job. I love the students. I’ve been here 26 years. I love interacting with the students. They’re the best part of Cooper. I’m sure most people say that.

I’ve kept in touch with a lot of students. I love seeing what they do. We just had one of our alums give a talk and it was great to see her. I love seeing what they have accomplished, both professionally and personally, like having kids of their own.

They’re getting closer to my age! When I first started, I was not much older than they were. But somehow, it seems that my past students are getting closer and closer to my age! They have kids now. Actually, I had one student and I was told he has a kid older than my kids. I don’t know how that happened.

TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

AN: My advice would be to stop taking so many extra credits and start experiencing life a little bit: get involved in extracurricular activities, professional societies, theater groups, religious groups –whatever you want to be involved in. Put some extra time into that and take leadership roles, do community service. Taking a ton of extra courses is not necessarily what is best for your career and for you personally. It isn’t going to necessarily make you a better person. I think you really need to develop your communication skills and find what you are passionate about. I think by doing extracurricular activities and experiencing all that the city has to offer, you’re better positioning yourself.

TCP: Who is your favorite professor at Cooper? Why?

AN: I can’t answer that. I think the professors are all really good people and they care about their students. It’s a loaded question obviously because I can’t say one person over another and, plus I haven’t taken any of their classes, so how would I know?

TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

AN: I like tennis, snowboarding –I love going on Dean Baker’s ski trips. I like reading, keeping up with current events, hanging out with my family; that is the best.

TCP: Do you have any closing remarks?

AN: As I said, I think Cooper is a wonderful place. It’s in a great location, one of the greatest cities in the world. I think students should take advantage of all of the things it has to offer. I mean, they’re going to take their core courses and graduate. They should work and study hard but I feel that they really need to experience life. Part of going to college is learning to be a good person and maturing into a responsible adult. I think that people should be doing that a little more than they are. And I can’t stress enough the importance of communication skills because when our students go out into the working world or grad school, wherever they’re going to be they will need to be able to communicate. I think the one thing Cooper is lacking in is stressing how important it is for our students to be able to articulate their thoughts, whether in their professional or personal lives. I think they should take advantage of that when they’re in school. And try to have fun! It’s supposed to be four years of… somewhat of a good time. Of course they’re always learning, but it doesn’t hurt to have some fun along the way too.

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

Art at Cooper

Matt Ledwidge (ART ‘16)

Art is a Bucket

Or so proclaimed the Swiss born writer-philosopher Alain De Botton on the eighteenth of October in a lecture and book signing entitled “Art as Therapy” in the Great Hall. By this De Botton was expressing his belief that art is a container for the most important parts of human experience and that art is more important and relevant today than ever before. De Botton proceeded to explain the “things that art is about” because, as he says, nobody likes very much to talk about it in concrete terms for risk of ruining the ambiguity inherent to all art or becoming overly controlling. This, alongside the institutional framing of the work, hinders the ability of art to bring meaning into the lives of everyone as he believes it can.

De Botton aims to face this problem by repositioning the cultural framing around art in the public in order to make the public a more suitable place to explore anxiety, love, sadness and politics with dignity and seriousness. With wit and erudition he suggested the following to the audience: reorganizing the world’s museums by theme; looking as closely at ones partner as Manet looked at asparagus; reconsidering the things we value at different times; remaining curious; continuing to have sex; and using art as an enriching perspective-giving bucket of every aspect of our experiences. ◊

Image of the Studio

How does living and working in New York shape contemporary studio practice on the level of scale, geography, and day-to-day organization? What does graphic design in New York look like?

These were the questions that ‘Image of the Studio – A Portrait of New York City Graphic Design’ in the 41 Cooper Gallery curated by the Herb Lubalin Centre and the Athletics design studio sought to explore. The exhibition featured works of over 75 current graphic design firms in New York ranging from one-person studios to large firms, from those founded in the 1950’s to last year.
Each studio was invited to submit original work and creative portraits of the designers as well as a range of data documenting the structure, history and culture of the various studios. The data was then organized into visualizations and information graphics documenting the various relationships between the studios and their New York location.

The exhibition filled the walls of the space with large panels of creative design solutions, inside jokes, interesting quotes, and information of how the studios view themselves. The information graphics are divided in such categories as “Passion & Mantras”, “Influences”, “Studio Culture”, and “Do’s and Don’ts,” with the diverse panels telling different elements of the larger story of what might be happening in graphic design in New York City today.

For more information you can visit the accompanying website at http://imageofthestudio.com. The exhibition closed Saturday, October 26th and a panel discussion in the Rose Auditorium Monday October 28th, 6:30-8:30pm concluded the exhibit. ◊

Concrete Confessional

Matthew Lee (ME ‘15)

            

On October 12th, Cooper Union was paid a visit by the world famous graffiti artist Banksy. As part of his one month show around New York City called “Better Out Than In”,  Banksy’s piece was set up inside one of the large concrete blocks right between 41 Cooper Square and the First Ukrainian Assembly of God Church . This “Concrete Confessional” depicts a priest inside the concrete block, and appears to be based off of a 1950’s photograph by Berni Schoenfield. However, within a day the piece was altered with a white beard and medallion, making the priest resemble Peter Cooper. Inside another concrete block, located directly next to the Banksy piece, is a depiction of Jamshed Barucha, Cooper Union’s President. Free Cooper Union claimed the credit for this work, called “Cooper Confessional”, criticizing President Barucha for deviating from the mission statement of the school providing full-tuition merit scholarships to all of its students. The concrete blocks have since been moved around, leaving the portrait of the president exposed to the sidewalk. Banksy’s original work is nowhere to be found. ◊

Photo Credit: Free Cooper Union

Letter Regarding Art Portfolio Reviews

Ryan Garrett (ART‘06)

Dear Friends,

I was in Ohio [on October 5th] reviewing portfolios in Cincinnati and Cleveland for Cooper and I have to say it seemed to be a pretty dismal sign of what Cooper may face as we switch to a tuition based model. I’ve attended Portfolio Reviews for the last three years and despite our total lack of advertising or signage we always have had very long lines and excited prospective applicants. Typically, if there were a student that firstly knew about the Cooper Union and secondly had any prospect of getting in, they would be excited to say that Cooper was their first choice of school and that they would be willing to commit if offered an Early Decision application. In both cities this weekend this was not at all the case.

There were no lines at all, only a slow trickle of students. Schools nearby had long lines. At first I attributed this to possible regional discrepancies, or it being the first Portfolio day of the year, but it became very clear that these factors alone could not account for this dramatic reversal of interest in the school. Of the students to whom I spoke with who were talented, motivated, had invested research into potential art schools and whom I felt were worthy of a referral for Early Decision, each said they would not be willing to commit to a binding decision based on Cooper’s decision to start charging tuition in 2014. This hesitance, of course, may have also been caused by the administration’s decision to delay [early decision applicants] last year.

Oftentimes prospective students knew a lot about Cooper and said that it would have been their top choice, but on account of tuition, they felt more attracted to their other top choices (RISD, SAIC, Pratt, etc) because of the facilities, range of specialized programs, and other nonessentials available at those universities. I made sure to guarantee them that it was only half tuition, and that there were a number of potential merit and need-based scholarships that would be available, and that the application process would remain need-blind, but it was clear that at the prospect of being charged tuition, to these students Cooper was just another art school out of many, and one that did not compete in regards to its superficial offerings.

No matter how many tentative caveats are attached (possible extra scholarships, need-blind admissions, etc), the introduction of tuition completely undoes Cooper’s exceptional reputation by placing it in direct competition on the open marketplace. All of this was confirmed by the reviewers who [went to] Texas. The fears and concerns that the Cooper Community had over the impact of switching to tuition are no longer speculative.

I have to say it was all very depressing, and I do not mean to sound alarmist, but it was strikingly clear, though I’m sure of no surprise, what this economic model is going to mean for the future of Cooper. Cooper will be unable to continue relying on attraction and will have to turn to promotion. The school will have to invest huge amounts in advertising to attract top caliber students. This, of course, will mean that the school will need to continually expand (its facilities, its degree programs, departments) in order to compete where it did not need to compete before.

When the board members shrugged off these concerns in the lead up to their final decision to charge tuition by saying things like “Cooper is not only about being tuition free” or “I would send my kid to Cooper even without a pool, or state of the art facilities” they were clearly being disingenuous… or mournfully ignorant.

Regardless, it seems necessary to confront them with reality in order to counter such wishful thinking. One parent whose mother had graduated from Cooper and had really wanted her daughter to attend asked “Whats the difference between Cooper and any of the other big art schools now?” I tried to explain Cooper’s ethic toward education, how it attracted the most talented faculty and students, how the creativity of the students was less impinged by commercial interests or economic pressure, but I realized that all of these qualities were inextricably tied to the economic freedom that it had been guaranteed throughout its history. She simply responded, “But how long can they sustain that?” I had no answer and I’m wondering if anyone does.

For my part I would be happy to help write recruitment reports, along with the other reviewers/recruiters, to give the Board, the President, and the rest of the Cooper Community a concrete assessment of the impact that charging tuition will have on the School of Art’s future.

Sincerely,
Ryan Garrett