March 2014 Board Report
Following is a summary of the topics discussed by the trustees at their March 12, 2014 meeting.
The chairman reported that, while he had to focus on some other matters in the period following the January meeting and had therefore not been able to advance the process for the trustee committee to develop a contemporary mission statement for The Cooper Union, that remains high on his priority list and he is hopeful of having it significantly advanced before the next board meeting. Given the multitude of viewpoints throughout the Cooper community, the chairman is seeking to engage an independent facilitator to ensure that this process is inclusive and transparent.
A group including the president, the dean of the engineering school, faculty members from architecture and engineering, and a student will visit Mumbai in furtherance of The Cooper Union’s new relationship with IIT Bombay. Among the goals will be to promote the planned student exchange, which will begin with two students per semester. IIT Bombay is the most selective engineering school in India and a source of talent for American industry from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. It could become an important source of students for our master’s programs.
A recent meeting of New York State college and university presidents from independent schools focused on the governor’s proposal to provide funding for New York high school graduates interested in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics to attend college in-state. The governor’s proposal is limited to public colleges and universities, but the group will seek to persuade the legislature to include the independent sector.
In connection with the updating of The Cooper Union’s mission statement, it will be important to consider the role the statement plays in accreditation. Federal education policy is focusing increasingly on colleges’ and universities’ accountability to demonstrate specific educational outcomes. At The Cooper Union, each school goes through a process of accreditation, and so does the institution as a whole. In the next accreditation process, it will be necessary to provide data that demonstrates that The Cooper Union accomplishes the objectives to which it claims to aspire in its mission.
The president has asked Teresa Dahlberg to take on new responsibilities as chief academic officer for The Cooper Union. These responsibilities include compliance with regulatory requirements, coordination of the accreditation process, and setting up the administrative processes to manage research grants in compliance with federal requirements. These are functions that at many universities are managed by a provost and, indeed, that had been suggested by the accreditation panel in our last review. Given The Cooper Union’s financial situation, however, the president did not want to add a new level of administration with its attendant costs. He also wished to maintain direct reporting relationships with the deans of art, architecture and the humanities.
As part of a continuing effort to control expenses by distributing functions among senior administrators already in place, the president has asked Steve Baker to take responsibility for community relations and buildings and grounds, in addition to student affairs. Dean Baker will serve as vice president for student affairs and community relations.
Robert Spencer reported that projections for the close of FY 2014 show that the year will conclude substantially within the overall budget framework approved by the board. Operating units are preparing proposed budgets for FY 2015 to be submitted at the end of March. Following administrative review, an overall budget will be presented to the board Finance Committee in April. The board will approve a final budget in May.
The board Finance and Investment committees are reviewing parameters for the bridge loan that will be needed to fund the anticipated deficits in the next three fiscal years, while revenues from tuition and the new programs ramp up. The borrowing will be sized to avoid any risk of invading the endowment corpus, as well as to be manageable with existing revenue streams.
The annual Form 990 will be posted by May 15. The Audit Committee will be looking to include better information about the use of resources for instruction, academic support and public service. In the first iteration, these changes will be introduced in an appendix. The 990 also will include the traditional mission statement, though with added language to document the board’s action to reduce the tuition scholarship to 50 percent. A revised mission statement will be provided next year.
The trustees heard a presentation by Christy Faison, a vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Ms. Faison observed that the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act is due to be be reauthorized, and it is likely there will be additional requirements that will affect The Cooper Union’s next accreditation. Ms. Faison reviewed the 14 existing standards as applied by Middle States and stressed the need for outcomes-based evidence for each standard as they relate specifically to The Cooper Union’s mission and goals. Middle States seeks what she called “convincing evidence in substantial measure demonstrating compliance” with each standard. She noted the board’s intention to reframe the institution’s mission statement in consultation with faculty, students, staff, and others and said that, for accreditation purposes, The Cooper Union community should consider the skills, value and knowledge it expects students to have upon graduation.
Report from the Alumni Association
John Leeper, president of The Cooper Union Alumni Association, noted that the association has affirmed its desire to desire to see the full tuition scholarship restored, as well as stated its intention to participate fully in the development of a revised statement of mission. He observed that the leadership of the association had developed a draft revision of its constitution, which is intended to give the association greater flexibility in responding to the institution’s current circumstances. This draft constitution is being sent to alumni along with a ballot for ratification. The association next will turn its attention to the memorandum of agreement with Cooper Union that frames the terms of their relationship.
Mr. Leeper reported that the association is working on plans for its Founder’s Day celebration, with a goal of keeping the event revenue-neutral for the school. He noted that most alumni he has spoken with are proud to have gone to Cooper and that Cooper needs its alumni. The association hopes to use the Founder’s Day event to celebrate the school and its alumni. He also noted plans for an event at the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse on March 25.