Tag Archives: 3-7-2016

Why Architects Suck

By Luke Kreul (Arch ’17) 

We are in crisis. The students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture have given up any boldness for the sake of inter-scholastic diplomacy. The artistic voice of my colleagues is lost in the fog of computation and aesthetics. And critical discussion, in total, is lost due to energy being dedicated to being fashionable; Trends are not going to give your practice integrity!

“Trends are not going to give your practice integrity!”

Earnest communication and criticism will give your work the integrity it needs. The work we produce cannot be cryptic or without position. Take authorship over your work; it’s the surest way that you are personally invested to what you’re dedicating your time. An earnest approach to architecture is also the surest way that we’re invested in the work of each other. When you’re racing towards the decision that you need to make, you’re in conflict and competition with the arguments of those around you. The argument towards the creation of an atmosphere of active debate is, within itself, what we should be responsible for constructing school-wide.

We architecture students are known for our lack of existence outside of the foundation building, which results from our commitment to our work. The stereotype of the sleepless architect is something to embrace. Be proud of being tired! It means that you’re working hard, you’re experiencing New York, and, ultimately, you’re being consumed by architecture, the noblest monster. We are being lazy, however. We students, myself included, have not put adequate effort towards having an architect-trustee. Our representation in JSC meetings is also terrible. Do we have our tails tucked between our legs because we lost the tuition battle?

“We’re recovering from the tuition battle poorly and there are losses to other battles imminent.”

We’re recovering from the tuition battle poorly and there are losses to other battles imminent. We use our minority status, our acceptance rate (now blown), and our workload as excuses not to fight for our place in student governance. There should be an architect-trustee. It has been said, there should not be another engineering student represented to the board of trustees, and it’s not appropriate for the next representative to be an artist.

“There should not be another engineering-trustee.”

It’s the time for an architect! Architects are responsible for coordinating structure and culture. Why not the same for our beloved institution? Friday night at a post-lecture dinner, I probed two second-year students and one freshman about the position of an architect. I asked them to consider the position of the artist, who sits from afar observing, reflecting, and reacting to society. In addition to these activities one cannot ignore the role of the architect-professional, who is responsible for articulating spatial concepts and schmoozing with potential clients. Reminding them of the architecture of our studio, the architect-artist, and the architect-professional, I received an interesting collection of three responses. One, given by a student who is a native New Yorker, was that all the distance is good in providing an enclave, a safe place where ideas can grow. The second response was that the distance between the studio and society is not especially true and the architecture students are connected. And the third response, from a first-year student, emphasized the distance between years within the architecture school and avoided the problem of the studio’s interiority.

Architects are creatures of multiple lives. Since we’re responsible for communicating both in drawings within the practice and with words and images to those outside, we have an instinctive approach that is suited for institutional problems. Structural considerations require two key skills: the analytic eye and the conceptual hand, which is the physiological composition of an architect. Artists are not of the same physiognomy, because their practice requires distancing oneself from society.

The recent evolution of the institutional status has come to a place where an engineer-trustee is irrelevant. Consider the example of the Rubix cube as demonstrative of design thinking. Many feel pride in ‘solving’ a Rubix cube, organizing the squares so that each face is singular in color. However at this moment, the only thing that can happen to the object is repeated disorganization. In then end, the Rubix cube always embodies the same problems it had before, because its operation anticipates problems. For the engineer, fixing the problem requires that the end product is a static object. Institutions—their structures, cultures, and corruptions—are ever changing. Architects are trained to work with time and space as both a parameter and an artistic medium. Rational thought mandates an architect-trustee.

We have an interim president, a new dean, and are just as capable at rising against as we were five years ago; it’s the perfect time to manifest. We are so “busy” with work and trends that we are approaching a banal status; the studio is becoming a non-place. It was glorious for architecture students to be in the news on a regular basis. I implore you to use both your anger and your virtú to make this school present!

Students in the Sea of Protests

By Olivia Heuiyoung Park (BSE ’19)

February might have been short of days, but it definitely wasn’t short of active voices for change. Opinions on topics such as gender neutral bathrooms, diversity for humanities faculty, and unfair schedule changes have made appearances in the forms of petitions, as most of us are aware. Students’ voices should be heard, changes are good, and petitions, when done right with the right language and attitude, can do both very effectively.

I don’t hate petitions. I think it’s important to be a part of some movement or call for change – especially at a college I’ll be spending the next few years of my life in. This is why I personally was part of actively distributing and delivering a specific petition. But, I was startled, if not bothered, by some of the things I’ve heard in the process. Some students just didn’t care about the issue as it didn’t affect them directly, while some students said that although they agree to parts of a petition, they do not agree to all of it. Some even said that they were pressured into signing some petitions because they didn’t want to be “that kid.”

“Some students just didn’t care about the issue as it didn’t affect them directly”

Petitions are, or should be, written formats of the voices of students, accurately embodying the whole population addressed. As it is in a written format, the language of petitions plays a huge role in the way it is delivered. It shouldn’t be an angry complaint letter with accusations and blame, and should be written free of assumptions of what YOU think others want – it should be written with the acceptance that there will be opposition to it. Petitions should also have specific and concrete proof to back the accusations and demands, and should be free of too extreme, all-or-nothing phrases; petitions should be engaging, identifying, and encompassing, especially when it is a call to change some existing system.

In my opinion, the three recent petitions did a decent job in doing this. The student voices were heard, and modes of active change are either already implemented or are in the process of doing so. Although these petitions were successful in starting changes and gaining more interest, I feel like it could have been even more effective with clearer language and attitude.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that people will have varying levels of agreement and thought, and it’s possible that some might agree to only specific parts of the written petition. If this occurs, don’t try to pressure the person to sign the petition because they agree with parts of it – be open for discussion and explanation, and clearly mention that if they do not agree with all of the demands in the petition, they are welcome to not sign it. When writing, try to be very specific so that the purpose of the petition is clear, while also keeping in mind some might disagree. And that’s okay! People shouldn’t feel like they’ll be “that kid” for having different opinions or for disagreeing with your petition; listen and understand different opinions regarding the topic.

It’s easy to simply conform to the majority out of fear of rejection. Everyone has different opinions, and those differences are why Cooper Union is as diverse, rich, and unique as it is. We, as students of Cooper Union, should provide a safe environment for everyone to openly discuss, disagree, and explain their own opinions. No one should feel pressured to agree to something they don’t, and everyone should be ready to “agree to disagree.”

“It’s easy to simply conform to the majority out of fear of rejection. “

Humanities Faculty Respond to Student Petition

By Anthony Passalacqua (ME ’18)

On the February 22, the students of Cooper Union brought a petition to the attention of the Humanities and Social Science (HSS) faculty. The students have, to word it bluntly, accused the HSS faculty of endemic racism. They have called for an increase in the diversity of the faculty, and for an increase in the geographic scope of the classes.

The faculty responded quickly to the petition, with Dean Germano releasing a statement on behalf of the faculty two days later, on the February 24. In the statement, Dean Germano stated that one of the ways to make “Cooper a stronger place, for students, faculty, staff, and alumni” would be to increase the number of “diverse faculty, who bring diverse backgrounds, new courses, and new ideas.”

He goes on to make clear that no kind of discrimination has ever been tolerated at the Cooper Union. He stressed that “classes must be safe and welcoming spaces for all students.” The issue of discriminatory comments, even of the micro-aggressive variety, is on the minds of our faculty.

However, Dean Germano’s campus-notice email was not a collective response from all HSS faculty. The Pioneer reached out to the other full-time HSS faculty individually for their thoughts on the student petition. Official responses were provided by both Professor Sonya Sayres and Professor Atina Grossman, while other faculty reacting
either unofficially or not at all, depending on their time constraints.

Professor Grossman’s response particularly speaks to the point that this goes above and beyond issues of just who is being hired. If the Cooper Union does not adjust to the new faculty in a way that lets us take full advantage of their strength, than it does not matter much who has been hired.

If the Cooper Union does not adjust to the new faculty in a way that lets us take full advantage of their strength, than it does not matter much who has been hired.

Professor Sayres’ first response: “what took you [students] so long” to  organize on this issue. She continued, saying that it is

inherently difficult to increase the diversity of the curriculum. Scholars who have invested years into learning, Greek or Latin for example, need to learn languages like Arabic and Chinese in order to continue to expand their understanding of their chosen areas of expertise. Further, changes in the curriculum also have to be able to survive in the long-term, because “if the faculty we hire like it here, then they will likely spend the next thirty years of their lives here.”

Professor Sayres gave an example from a number of years ago, when the HSS faculty “tried to do it from a globalist perspective,” that is, “to interrogate the Eurocentrism” of the curriculum and expand. The HSS faculty used a global perspective text for all four semesters of core HSS. While this worked for a short amount of time, “it always disappears” and the faculty go back to the way they were teaching. Scholars have been hyper-focused since they began their  careers in higher education, and that’s quite different to the demands of a curriculum that provides an expansive, “globalist perspective.”

A theme of the reactions has been some degree of shock. Many of the HSS professors are women who finished their formal education and earned their PhD’s during a time when it was rare for even a white woman to do so. Understandably, to be now accused of systematically keeping minority groups from being represented amongst the faculty comes as quite a surprise.

All of this said, the faculty does indeed seem committed to increasing diversity. The shortlisted candidates for the three full-time faculty positions are beginning their visits to campus this week, and all students will be invited to lunchtime talks by the candidates.

Open Letter to Students

By Professor Atina Grossman 

Addressed to all Cooper Union students, both those who signed and, those who did not sign, the recent Petition to the HSS Faculty.

While I definitely think that the tone of the petition was not helpful in terms of building the strategic alliances we will need to meet complicated challenges I do think that the HSS searches and the student petition offer an excellent opportunity for us—faculty and students—to focus on the critical substantive issues and to make some very important points about how these very real needs can only be fulfilled if:

a) the Board of Trustees and the administration provide HSS with the resources to attract and retain a diverse full-time faculty that can teach a diverse curriculum. And,

b) the three schools are willing to adjust their curricular and credit requirements to make it possible for the students to actually take advantage of the newly diverse curriculum that we would hope to create.

Therefore, to the student petitioners: Right On! (to use a phrase from my past):  On to more (more strategically phrased) petitions, to the Board of Trustees and administration and to their own schools.

This is an opportunity for the students to really think through what kind of an institution Cooper Union is, why they chose to come to a school with such a limited number of humanities and social sciences offerings. After all, HSS courses presumably are where many of these issues can be addressed critically and thoughtfully and in an academic context; that’s why the petition is addressed to HSS and not to the other schools which of course have similar problems in terms of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty. (Just look at the Engineering School! Moreover, ironically, given the focus on HSS, the example in the Pioneer referred to the Art School).

This is also the moment to think about what needs to be changed in the Cooper Union curriculum and structure as a whole, and within each of the three pre-professional schools, to assure that students here can in fact have—within the (hopefully expanding) limits of their demanding majors—a rich diverse educational experience with an exciting, academically excellent, and diverse set of faculty.

How do we claim the money and resources to attract such people (having worked my heart and body out on these searches, I know how very difficult this is)?

How do we make space in the curriculum so that potential new faculty could really have the opportunity to teach the diverse perspectives they would bring? And how do we find or create space in the curriculum—and crucially—within the credit structure decreed by the three schools to assure that students can really take advantage of these opportunities?

These are difficult questions and they are truly worth debating:

What are you as students willing to sacrifice in terms of your own major to have the kind of curriculum the petition demands?

What is the institution willing to sacrifice and to invest, to make the provision of such a curriculum possible?

I would love to meet with the students to engage in that discussion. I would be happy to take up the demand for a community-wide meeting. I am sure some of my colleagues would as well. I look forward to our ongoing conversation.

Atina Grossmann
Professor of History
HSS

What Cooper Union Can Learn From Kanye West

By Brandon Quinere (CE ’19)

BQuinere - Kanye - photo

Tuesday is usually my designated day to plan out the rest of my school week; I can prioritize my assignments so that I am not overwhelmed with too much to do on a given day. I was having a good track with Tuesdays so far, until I was unfortunately presented with an e-mail one Tuesday that would not only shake up the rest of my week, but the rest of my semester.

“Your Calc II section has changed” the subject line read. I had heard about other students having their schedules switched suddenly but I thought I was safe, considering I was actually registered for my section and not waitlisted. How could this happen? Better yet, why did it happen on the day before the exam for the Calc section I apparently wasn’t in anymore?

That night, I found myself in the company of some other students, reflecting on the matter and how others were affected much more severely, more so than me. It was amazing that our school could stay quiet about this scheduling issue, yet only act on it after students were settled in. Has no one set a precedent on how to voice issues as they arise so that no one gets royally screwed?

Has no one set a precedent on how to voice issues as they arise so that no one gets royally screwed?

Enter Kanye West. Impeccably timed with mine, Kanye had a stressful week of his own, predictably using Twitter as a means to vent. But between the sneak peeks of his third Yeezy collection and that infamous Bill Cosby tweet, what was perhaps most significant about his feed during this period were the tweets regarding the release of his latest album, The Life of Pablo, which was set to be released at the end of that week.

The creation of Pablo was documented heavily on the account, especially with photos of a notepad detailing the album’s tracklist and title. A simple Google image search of “Kanye notepad” reveals the album in its many different forms, as tracks were moved around and potential studio collaborators left their mark on the page. The quick and admittedly sloppy marker scribbling on the page suggested urgency on Kanye’s part to complete the record on time.

Here he was, an artist who is perhaps the biggest perfectionist in music, planning his seventh LP in the same way you would outline a project for a class. Kanye made sure to share this rushed process with anyone who cared to see it. Even after hyping Pablo for months, he still chose to update his fans about the obstacles he faced last-minute, just mere days before they were to expect the album.

If Kanye West can publicly disclose any issues surrounding an album to his potential music buyers, then any attentive institution should have the decency to do the same with their customers. Cooper is guilty of doing this far too late, consequently having to deal with the complaints from us, their paying customers, for not doing so in a timely manner.

If there is a scheduling problem, students should be notified immediately. That way, proper measures can be taken on the their part to fix it before the new semester starts, considering spring classes are registered well before winter break. Students were not even aware there was an issue until they were suddenly notified. Communication is key, and it has the Kanye West seal of approval.

Of course, it is unfair to compare a botched album release to a messy scheduling error. Yet a somewhat minor issue for some turned into a major inconvenience for many because of a lack of communication, something that was, in contrast, used positively by Kanye. This is not my way of asking for a completely transparent system, since I have no business in other students’ schedules. Even so, anything would have been better than receiving an unexpected e-mail with a rather blunt subject line, weeks into the semester.

The Great Calculus Crisis of 2016 has been averted, but Cooper could definitely take a page out of Kanye’s notepad on how to properly notify those affected about last-minute changes, just in case there’s another occurrence. Because if you catch me on another Tuesday in the near future receiving a sudden burden like this again, well, this is way too much, I need a moment.

“Talent” Show Review

By Toby Stein (CE ’18) | Photos by Sage Gu (CE ’19) and Simon Shao (ME ’19)

Let’s talk talents. Now I know what you’re thinking, this is Cooper Union, we don’t have talents besides art, architecture and engineering, but let me tell you something, you are certainly mistaken; we have many talents, some of which will be discussed in this article! In classic fashion, the familiar faces of Gavin Kaplan and Sam Zhang opened the show on Saturday March 5 with their educated humour consisting slapstick comedy and poop jokes.

Sage-1163

Sage-1193-2

After their introduction, where Gavin asked the
question we’ve all been wondering: ‘are they siblings or are they dating?’, Clarisse and Justin Poserio serenaded the audience back to their childhood with familiar renditions of Hakuna Matata, The Kim Possible theme song and The Fairly Odd Parents intro. After a brief interruption by Chris Panebianco demonstrating his strength and pizza eating skills, we were brought back to action with arguably the most impressive performance of the night. To say that Joe the Juggler did not drop the ball would be an understatement, as, well for one, he did not drop a single ball, but beyond just that, he also managed to enthrall the audience with his humorous juggling routine set to catchy music. What came next was a cascade of impressive musical performances: firstly Gene Lam courting the audience with a composition of her own, followed by Sam Zhang and Jessie Wu’s compelling performance of “Anitra’s Dance”. Gene’s performance was met with approval, as more than one audience member was heard saying “ok, we get it, she’s good”. Similarly, Sam and Jessie’s performance did us all a public service teaching all of Cooper what an oboe sounds like. Who knew?

Simon-5367-2Done with the musical performances, fear not because the trio of Calvin Liu Maureen Anyanwu, and Peter Wang set the stage on fire with their smooth, sexy and specific moves. Gavin and Sam warned us all that each year Calvin and his associates try to seduce us, and yet, the warning fell on mute ears, as more than ten people reported a warmer auditorium after the trio’s performance. Soon after Josie Lomboy’s performance of Adele’s “Hello” reminded us that underneath the façade of pop music, Adele’s piano masterpieces reign supreme.

Simon-5418A perennial powerhouse, the juggling club then stormed the stage performing a variety of juggling feats involving pins, balls, and multiple people. Last, and almost certainly least, came the fine gentleman of Pen15. Performing for his multiple wives, Kenneth O’Neil’s fingers danced across the piano keys as Howie Chen strummed both the strings of his bass, and our hearts. Alternating between drums and vocals were Anthony Traina and John DiBattista, enthralling the audience with their strong arms and smooth voices.

Suffice to say, the talent show was, yet again, a huge hit, and this time, it was for a great cause. After the show, Sam was quoted saying “it’ll be bigger and better next year”, certainly the case, as Sam and Gavin are graduating and thankfully won’t be back next year.

Campaign Corruption, by the Numbers

By Michael Pasternak (ME ’17) 

Campaign finance reform and Washington corruption is the defining issue of this election cycle. On one side, we have the so-called “establishment.” This includes the likes of Hillary Clinton, a prior contender for the Presidency and a recent First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, as well as Governor Kasich and Senator Rubio, one of which has an immense amount of government experience and another whom has the full backing of the Republican Party. On the other side we have longtime Senator Bernie Sanders, who is quite unpopular with the Democratic Party itself, having only recently officially joined it and netting only five representative endorsements, but who is the most popular Senator in the United States among his constituency.

Donald Trump occupies the principle anti-establishment position on the right, having no government experience whatsoever and with the leadership pledging to distance themselves from him if he wins the GOP nomination, he is the most “pure” anti-establishment vote out there. Some might ask about Cruz, but since he both engages in all of the “establishment” fundraising and lobbying schemes and is reviled among all of his colleagues and opponents, I would argue hating Ted Cruz is perhaps the most bipartisan issue facing the nation.

A lot of people can generally see a difference; Trump and Sanders have a manner of speaking that is very authentic: they typically say what they want to see with conviction and with little attention paid to things like focus groups and the audience in front of them. They both have noticeable accents, look extremely different than the other candidates, and seem pretty pissed. A lot of Americans seem to feel those qualities represent them and are supporting those candidates at an unprecedented rate, financially.

So what is it that has everyone so angry, really? Is it simply “class warfare?” Turns out it really, really isn’t. Corruption is not a new factor in politics. It’s been around since the first governments were formed and it looks unlikely to ever completely go away. As they say, “power corrupts,” and governance requires power. However, a healthy and successful American democracy has historically relied upon a push and pull between special interests and the wider public which, in recent years, has been knocked way off balance.

There are two large changes in recent years, which have shed light on the power of money in politics. The first is the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC. The case decreed that money is a form of free speech; or rather that free speech cannot be impugned if money comes with it. The upshot of the decision is that campaign financing was opened to corporations and not just their composite individuals and all caps were lifted on contributions.  The law stipulated that there could be no direct collaboration between campaigns and these new super-PACs, which were the organizations created to use the new corporate money, but a number of loopholes have emerged, rendering those rules worthless.

The other effect was that campaign finance was brought out of the shadows. In the past, millions of dollars were still funneled into campaigns through organizations called 501(c)’s. These allowed contributions capped at a high rate to be funneled into campaigns by individuals. There were a number of loopholes that made sure money still found it’s way into races and friendly politicians’ pockets. The other clear warrant for corruption comes from gerrymandering, where districts are redefined to give incumbents a voting advantage. Essentially, gerrymandering aims to isolate voters that lean towards the opposition candidate among districts that heavily lean towards friendly candidates. This creates a situation in which the popular vote has little to do with who is in control of congressional districts.  It’s flagrantly undemocratic and so obvious that it’s easy to get angry about it.

Now here’s the controversy: does taking money from special interest groups mean you are corrupt? Can one prove that government officials are directly compensating large donations with friendly policy? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. We can, by and large, prove that special interests are treated better on account of what amounts to legalized bribery, but individual events are incredibly hard to pinpoint.

Now to get nerdy. According to a New York Times article shortly after the 2010 elections (it was updated to say not much has changed) the average winner in a state election spent $310,000 more on canvassing and advertisement than the average loser. After those elections, we immediately saw an increase in something referred to as Regulatory Capture, which is when industries control the regulatory bodies that are meant to provide a check on them. According to a Brennan Center report from 2014, the four states that tracked outside spending in both 2010 and 2014, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin, saw those spending levels increase by a factor of 20 (Connecticut), 4 (Maine), 4 (Michigan), and 5 (Wisconsin) from 2010 levels as a result of the decision.

Relatively unknown names with big ambitions have financed outside groups that spent heavily on races for statehouse, mayor, and even school board. At the state level, it is possible for a single funder to dominate the discourse and machinery of politics in a way not seen at the federal level. What this functionally means is that the government is now actively working to support special interests and large corporations instead of serving to rein them in. Most of us have already seen the effects, whether it be shoddy internet providers, nuclear plants being unfunded, or regulations strangling a small business we are close to in favor of a larger competitor. It’s all a part of a bigger, deeper issue with how our system is run.

Now, there is an exception to this.  In presidential politics, spending encounters diminishing returns. As more money is spent on ads, people start seeing ads multiple times or become annoyed and oversaturated. This is most clear in the campaign of Governor Jeb Bush, who despite massive spending was never able to break away as a contender in this year’s election. The same trend held true in 2012, especially during the general. What this boils down to is that in presidential politics, money isn’t as influential and that means the future President is uniquely capable of leading campaign finance reform.

So what can you do to make that happen?  Register to vote! Alex Rybchuk (ME ‘17) and I will be setting up a table and carrying around ungodly amounts of voter registration forms. Take a couple minutes to fill it out and hand it back to us and you’ll be registered as a voter in New York! After registration, which ends March 25th, show up to the polls on April 19th or fill out an absentee ballot earlier and vote without even leaving your house! This election could very well be the difference between 20 years of record low turnouts and a revitalization of our democracy.  I urge everyone to be a part of it.