Cooper Union, Committee to Save Cooper Union Agree to Settle Litigation

POSTED ON: September 1, 2015

The Board of Trustees of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art will enter into a consent agreement with the Committee to Save Cooper Union and the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, according to court papers to be filed in New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday, September 2. The agreement will end the litigation over the new financial plan adopted by The Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees in 2013 and allow for the continued sliding-scale scholarship model for undergraduate students while providing for continued steps to strengthen the governance of the institution and for evaluating the possibility for a return to a full-tuition scholarship model. The agreement precludes further litigation of the claims asserted in the current lawsuit.

Under the agreement, which must be approved by the court, The Cooper Union will increase transparency and participation by broadening the involvement of its students, alumni, faculty and staff in the school’s governance. The composition of the Board of Trustees will include two current students, with voting rights. Also, depending on the size of the board at the time, between five and nine of the trustees will be elected by the alumni through the Cooper Union Alumni Association, with one serving as chair or a vice chair of the board. Four full-time faculty members, elected by the full-time faculty, will serve as non-voting observers to the board. One part-time faculty member elected by the part-time faculty, and one staff member, elected by the staff, also will serve as non-voting observers.

To further increase transparency, all Board reports and meeting minutes, except for notes of “privileged, confidential, or private matters that are the subject of executive sessions” will be published on The Cooper Union website. The Board also will publish annual statements outlining fiscal year dollar-value and percentage-change performance of Cooper Union’s non-real-estate investments.

In addition, the Board of Trustees will create a new committee, to be known as the “Free Education Committee” that will include student and alumni trustees, with an alumni trustee serving as committee chair. One of the faculty observers to the board and the staff observer will also be allowed to observe committee meetings. The committee will be charged with developing a strategic plan aimed at returning The Cooper Union to a full-tuition scholarship model, while maintaining “Cooper Union’s strong reputation for academic quality within its Art, Architecture and Engineering programs at their historical levels of enrollment.” The plan will be presented in January 2018, with progress reports and interim recommendations presented in January of 2016 and 2017. The Board of Trustees will vote on the strategic plan proposed by the Free Education Committee at its regularly scheduled meeting in March 2018.

The agreement acknowledges that, in undertaking a good-faith effort to determine the viability of the full-scholarship model, it is uncertain if or when The Cooper Union could return to such a model. This acknowledgement reflects the fact that Cooper has experienced decades of substantial operating deficits caused by a consistent pattern of cost increases that exceed the growth of its revenues.

To provide support and build transparency, the Attorney General will appoint a financial monitor, responsible for evaluating and reporting on Cooper Union’s finances. The financial monitor will make recommendations to the board in connection with the board’s consideration of proposals relating to the finances of Cooper Union and will prepare annual reports. In addition, the monitor will provide analysis and opinion on the feasibility of the Free Education Committee’s strategic plan.

In connection with the consent agreement, the Attorney General has filed a cy pres petition that proposes interpreting the effective terms of Cooper Union’s Deed of Trust and Charter to allow the institution to collect tuition. The consent agreement includes an acknowledgment that, by entering into the agreement, The Cooper Union is not admitting any wrongdoing.

In a response to the Attorney General’s petition filed with the Court, The Cooper Union and the Board of Trustees, while stipulating to the proposed interpretation of the Deed of Trust and Charter, noted that they neither accept nor agree with the factual findings in the cy pres petition which, among other things, fails adequately to credit the Board’s commitment and initiative in addressing the issues raised in the cy pres petition. However, the Board and Cooper Union believe that it is in the college’s best interest to approve the consent agreement and direct full and collaborative attention to preserving the college for future generations of students. 

Regarding the consent agreement, Chairman of The Cooper Union Board of Trustees Richard Lincer said: “This agreement will enable us to turn our focus to the future of The Cooper Union in a manner that is inclusive of and transparent to our community. We hope that this framework will enable us to develop and build support to sustain the strengths of this great institution for future generations of students.”

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.