Coronavirus Update -- Faculty & Staff -- March 18

Dear Cooper Union Faculty and Staff,

As I will soon write to our students, normally, we look forward to Spring Break as a chance to break up our everyday routines. This past week has felt anything but routine, but it’s certainly not the kind of change we had in mind less than two short weeks ago. The unique nature of the Coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented impact on our daily lives. While our commitment to our collaborative project of a Cooper Union education has remained steadfast, decision-making about the remainder of the semester has been an evolving process, as our responses and plans have had to keep pace with various directives from our federal, state, and city governments. 

Over the past few days, your deans and other members of our leadership team have been in constant communication about the growing number of challenging decisions this situation has introduced. I want to assure you that we have had the health and well-being of each and every one of you, your teaching, and our students’ learning in mind through all of our conversations. Holding these things in balance is at the heart of each decision we make. 

It is with all of these elements in mind that I write to share the news that the remainder of the spring semester will be fully conducted online. In addition, staff who are currently working remotely should expect not to report back to campus until at least April 20, though this date may be extended. Not only is the safety of each of our students, faculty, and staff at the forefront of our minds in this decision, the health of the collective public is a paramount concern. 

While I know that there is widespread understanding of what this pandemic requires of us, I also know that the news of our transition to online learning is discomforting to many, as we are faced with the uncertainty of how courses and pedagogy will translate to this new format and the practical logistics of teaching in one location when students are in another. I have also heard from your deans that many of you, as faculty members, have innovative ideas for how you will reposition your coursework, how you are already thinking creatively about your pedagogy in this new realm, and how you will support students as they, too, navigate these uncharted waters. Staff similarly have begun remote work, supporting students, faculty, and our operations with incredible enthusiasm and adaptability. 

Some have asked whether we could still leave open the possibility of finishing out the academic semester at Cooper, particularly for students whose work typically relies on use of labs, studios, and fabrication tools. We understand this desire, and this has been a difficult decision to make. The reality is that health experts and local, state, and federal governments are suggesting that limitations on travel and gatherings of even reasonably small groups of people may last at least eight weeks, putting us at the end of the semester. Even if the guidance from experts and government changes, and restrictions on gatherings and travel are lifted, a transition back to on-campus teaching will create even more disruption for the vast majority of faculty and students. We are also cognizant that, as we are moving to online learning through the end of the semester, many of our students would prefer to travel home and be with family during this time. Transitioning fully to distance learning will eliminate their difficult decisions about whether to stay or leave at this time and provide a bit of certainty in these uncertain times. 

Importantly, we also know that many of you will have to balance having children at home now that schools have been closed or check in on elderly parents more frequently as their movements are limited due to the health risks or care for yourself in new ways given the dynamics around us. Please know that you are not alone in these challenges. Many of us are wrestling with them, and we can be a resource to each other, sharing ideas for how to balance these various responsibilities. It’s important that we stay connected and support one another.

Our IT staff, your deans, department heads, and I are committed to working with you to address any technology challenges you are feeling. I also hope you will share ideas as a collaborative faculty and staff from afar so that we can all learn together and from each other. For those of you who need to access your office on campus, as long as New York City allows free movement of people, we will be providing limited hours to enter the building and collect any materials you may need on or after March 23. Anyone with an immediate question or need should email and someone will respond to your request.

It is with a heavy heart that we also must cancel the May Commencement ceremony in its traditional on-campus format, as well as the End of Year Show, Senior Shows and Exhibitions, and all other events planned through the spring semester. We are determined to still celebrate our students’ accomplishments, especially their fortitude during this unprecedented time, through alternative formats. I hope you will join me and participate in our future celebration of the Class of 2020, in whatever form it ultimately takes.

If you have concerns about any of these decisions or need help working through your plans, please know that you have our support. I encourage you to contact your academic dean or administrative department head so we can assist you during this transition. 

One of the many benefits to being a school that is small in size is that it is easier to know one another and to stay connected with each other. We plan to stay a community, albeit a virtual one. Please continue to checkour website, tune into our social media channels, and reach out to your students, dean, and fellow faculty and staff to stay in touch. Distancing may be a physical barrier, but we won’t let it be a barrier to our social and professional connections. Your deans, department heads, and I are just a phone call (or a text, email, or video chat) away.  We are in this together.

In solidarity,

  • 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.