Nov. 2, 2011
Dear members of the Cooper Union Community,
Since my arrival at Cooper Union this past July, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many members of our academic community. It’s been exciting to talk about the future of our institution with you.
Some of our conversations have been about the difficulties our institution faces at the present moment. We live in difficult financial times and, as I recently told a New York TImes reporter, we face some immediate challenges.
One significant challenge is placing Cooper Union on the path to a sustainable financial model. A sustainable model is one in which the budget is balanced with only as much investment income as dictated by the endowment spending policy. As of this year, we have an annual structural deficit of close to $16.5 million. With expenditures of $59.7 million, this represents a deficit of approximately 28%. This is a structurally unsustainable financial model, and we must act immediately to put our institution on the path to a sustainable future. This means balancing the operating budget without selling assets or dipping into the endowment beyond the spending policy. It means having revenue models that scale to the growth of expenses associated with operating an outstanding and vibrant academic enterprise positioned to engage the challenges and opportunities of our time.
Peter Cooper envisioned this institution as a dynamic intellectual and social force. His vision was vast in scope and very much ahead of its time. To ensure that we continue to project that vision into the 21st century, we must be prepared to undergo a bold plan of reinvention.
Four important elements will constitute that reinvention.
The first will be fostering innovation and intellectual curiosity. This means encouraging a culture of vigorous research, scholarship and other creative pursuits, as well as inventive and entrepreneurial activity. It involves the elaboration of ideas into tangible works. It also involves an emphasis on continuous innovation—pedagogical, organizational and intellectual.
The second and third elements of our reinvention must affirm Peter Cooper’s dual commitment to access and service for the public good. Access means enabling students of merit to benefit from a fine education that would otherwise be out of reach. We must always have this as a priority, regardless of how we solve our financial challenges. Service for the public good means focusing on the deployment of technology, design and art for the good of society, the community, the nation, and in fact the world.
Finally, our reinvention must cultivate a global perspective on every level of thinking and enterprise. It must prepare students for an age when the imagination is no longer fettered by the boundaries of geography, but rather operates in a deeply interconnected world.
There is enormous unrealized potential at Cooper Union. Peter Cooper wanted this institution to be “equal to the best,” and his writings offer a wealth of possibilities as we consider our options. He was convinced that almost anything was possible, “with patient industry and minds that soar.”