Joseph Colonel (EE ‘15) & Marcus Michelen (BSE’14)
At 6:05 AM on April 23rd 2013, members of the Cooper Community received a campus-notice email from Mark Epstein, Chairman of the Cooper Union Board of Trustees. The email was an invitation to an event at noon the same day, hosted by the Board of Trustees. According to the email, the event would “announce the decisions the Board reached on the future course of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.” The 61-word email closed with a requirement: “No signs or banners please.”
At the event itself, a lone podium stood before a packed Great Hall. At about ten minutes past noon, Mark Epstein walked in, and took his place behind the podium. He quietly read a written statement from the Board of Trustees: “The Board of Trustees voted last week to reduce the full-tuition scholarship to 50% for all undergraduates admitted to The Cooper Union beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2014.”
He continued for approximately 15 more minutes, finishing the written statement that was subsequently emailed to the Cooper Community at 12:23 PM. Epstein then opened the floor for questions. However, instead of receiving questions verbally, Epstein insisted on receiving questions in writing. Men and women with large index cards walked around the Great Hall offering the cards to those who wanted to ask questions.
In order for one to ask a question, he or she needed to raise his or her hand, receive an index card, write down the question and give the card back to the carriers. The carrier would then give the index card to Epstein, who would put the card into a pile of questions to answer. As Epstein attempted to answer many of the questions, he ignored duplicates and questions he deemed antagonistic, as more questions came in.
A few of the questions along with Epstein’s answers are reproduced below:
Cooper Community: “To avoid the consideration of charging tuition, how many millions of dollars would The Cooper Union need?”
Mark Epstein: “We would probably need a minimum of at least 300 to 400 million dollars.”
CC: [Question unknown]
ME: “No, you are not getting a swimming pool.”
CC: “What will stop an inflation [related] increase of the 50% [tuition].”
ME: “If you all would donate to this school, that will stop.”
CC: “This format of asking questions is insulting.”
ME: “Maybe so. Being yelled at, like the last meeting, was offensive so we’re trying to keep it civil.”
According to student Natalia Maliga, a walk-out was planned on Facebook, beginning a little after 2 PM. Beginning outside of the foundation building, the student-protestors entered 41 Cooper Square at approximately 3:30. The students walk up the Grand Staircase and stopped at the top the stairs, just outside of Frankie’s lounge, chanting “Free as air and water!”
The group of students then began screaming and banging on the floor and walls of the school, attempting to get the attention of complacent engineers scattered throughout the building. The student-protestors went up to the 8th floor, calling for a unified school the entire way.
The movement walked back down to the 4th floor and stopped in front of Frankie’s lounge, releasing another collective scream, reported to have been heard in the Rose Auditorium. The protesting continued outside of the foundation building for quite some time afterwards.
Near the end of the night, starting at 7:30 PM, a candle-light vigil with a small bonfire was held outside of the foundation building. Students of all three schools sat and stood around the fire sharing memories of their experiences at Cooper. The vigil ended when police peacefully asked the students to put out the bonfire. A student poured out the fire with sand from a fellow student’s show.