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Events of the Last Few Days & Moving Forward

On October 30 President Laura Sparks sent the below to The Cooper Union Community.

To The Cooper Union Community:

This has been a tragic and frightening week – pipe bombs directed at individuals, it appears, based on political affiliation; a shooting that appears to be racially motivated, attempted first at a church and afterward at a grocery store; and then over the weekend, a mass shooting in a synagogue. These events, each devastating in its own right, should be especially unthinkable unfolding in the rapid succession as they have.

Unfortunately, we have come to expect them, and in our expectation, they can reinforce feelings of division, hate, and fear that have become far too prominent in our daily lives. Each of us feels and responds in our own way. I am shaken for the families of the victims and for our country. I am angry, and at times I feel depleted.  And yet, I know that these are precisely the moments when we must garner the energy and the courage to seek out and live out a better way. I am committed to this – for myself and for The Cooper Union.

The Cooper Union was founded as a place of inclusion, with the belief that people of all races, religions, genders, and economic backgrounds together make our community, our country, our society stronger. Every day, and especially at times like these, we must ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to live up to that founding ideal.

On Friday, I met with students who have raised concerns about issues of diversity within the faculty and curriculum here at Cooper. I was joined by Toni Torres, who supports institutional strategy and planning and is a co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, and together we listened as dozens of students, and later faculty and staff, discussed and debated these issues and how we can engage with each other on these issues going forward. We also attended students’ silent protest during HSS 3 yesterday. I want to thank those who have raised their voices on all sides of these issues through conversation, debate and/or protest, in groups and in individual outreach. I also want to recognize those who stood in silence who, through that silence, demonstrated for us the need for their perspective and our need to engage. 

Giving voice to an issue – whether as students, faculty, or staff – is how conversations get started. An honest and respectful exchange can inform and guide positive change. I am appreciative of the students who have raised these issues. I am also appreciative of the many faculty, staff, and administrators who have reached out to be part of the discussions and solutions. I also understand that the views within our student body, our staff, and our faculties are not uniform or monolithic, and it is incumbent on all of us to make space for dissenting views and constructive dialogue.

The issue of diversity in curricula and faculty is not new here or elsewhere in colleges and universities, and while there have been some changes, the pace of change can be frustrating, particularly when a student’s time here is so short. I am committed, as is our Board of Trustees and many among our faculty and administration, to diversifying our faculty, staff, and student body and evolving our curriculum and pedagogy in ways that recognize that many distinct experiences and voices define our collective history and that engaging students in the process of connecting the history we learn to our present-day experiences and self-exploration should be a cornerstone of a Cooper Union education. 

The timing of these discussions coincides with our school-wide strategic planning efforts. These are critical issues which we must grapple with in order to set our direction forward. How we answer them is at the heart of defining who we are as an institution and what we want to be.  Cooper Union prides itself on being a special place, a unique school. I have heard this refrain from our oldest alumni and our youngest applicants. And it is true. We are different, but our institutional history is only as strong as our ability to adapt to challenges and this is the work required to thrive. Thank you to all who have contributed their time, their voices, their energies over the last few weeks – you are living out the ideals which our founder set out for us.

I have reviewed the materials that were provided at yesterday’s protest, and our Academic Leadership Team, composed of our deans, associate deans, Toni, and me, will review them in depth when we meet later this week, along with the feedback we have received from students, staff, and faculty who have diverse perspectives on these issues. Our goal will be to determine what is possible in the short, medium, and long-term and to put a plan of action in place.

The better informed we are, the more effective that plan of action will be. I welcome, encourage, and support a robust and ongoing conversation about these issues. In that spirit, tomorrow, from 12:30-2pm in Rose Auditorium, we will make the space that had previously been held for the Cooper 2040 discussion available instead for open conversation about our curriculum, our pedagogy, and our culture. I look forward to debate and dialogue that can inform a set of changes that will make us more effective as an institution, more diverse as a collection of people who comprise the institution, and more inclusive and supportive as a community. And in this shared experience, I hope we can practice the active, engaged and respectful participation that underpins a healthy society.

If you cannot attend tomorrow and/or if you have additional thoughts, please share them. If you email your comments to Toni Torres (atorres@cooper.edu), who will serve as the point person in the administration as we move these conversations forward, she will ensure that we review them and use them to inform change.

In addition, as we move forward, I will ask everyone to be mindful of Cooper’s posting policy. Several of the posters that have been put up are outside of our posting policy, which was created to ensure equitable information dissemination for the community that does not damage our buildings or interfere with our pedagogical spaces. Posters can help to bring awareness to issues and give voice to them. They can also result in anonymous debate that can be counter-productive. It’s important that we ensure consistency in the application of our policies. Now that a series of conversations has been started, Buildings and Grounds will remove any posters that are outside of designated posting areas. All posters that are in designated posting areas and comply with Cooper Union’s posting policy will be left in place.

I’ll end where I started. We are in the midst of extraordinary times, and the deeply charged rhetoric that surrounds us – or that we may sometimes be part of – makes it too easy to quickly judge a person, a position, a situation.  Let us not fall into that trap. Let us use this as an opportunity to live out a better way; to create room to understand another point of view; to debate different, principled perspectives; to use facts and evidence and compassion to arrive at a deeper understanding of the issues, of each other, and of the best paths forward. That is the promise of The Cooper Union.  

I look forward to continuing this important moment of self-reflection, exploration, and evolution of our institution.

 

Laura

  • 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.