September 2014 Board Report

Following is a summary of the matters discussed by the Board of Trustees at their September 2014 meeting.

Election and Nomination of New Trustees

Daniel Libeskind AR’70 was elected to the Board of Trustees.

Elizabeth Diller AR’79 was nominated for election as a trustee and will be up for election at the next regular meeting of the board in December 2014.

Robert Tan AR’81, having been selected by the Cooper Union Alumni Association to be considered for nomination as alumnus trustee, was nominated for election to the Board of Trustees. Mr. Tan will be up for election in December 2014 to replace Alumnus Trustee Lee Skolnick AR’79.

Chairman’s Report

The chairman welcomed Bill Mea as the new vice president for finance and administration.

Chairman Lincer acknowledged the outstanding effort on the part of the Office of Admissions and members of the faculty who worked to recruit the freshman class. He noted the significant increase in the proportion of students eligible to receive Pell grants and the increased supplemental aid available to them, consistent with The Cooper Union’s goal of ensuring accessibility.

Chairman Lincer reported that, while he had identified an independent facilitator who could be effective in assisting the Board of Trustees in establishing an inclusive process to create a contemporary mission statement for The Cooper Union, as he had indicated in January, the pending lawsuit has obviously made any such meaningful dialogue impossible under the present circumstances. However, he will continue to explore possible avenues to stimulate constructive discussion of other elements of the mission without being hamstrung by the debate over tuition.

President and Cabinet Report

President Bharucha and members of his cabinet reported on the administrative goals of Cooper Union in the following areas: finance, admissions, academic affairs, student affairs, development, and communications.

There are two overarching tasks: (i) achieving the goals embedded in the financial sustainability plan, and (ii) preparing for the next Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) self-study report, which is scheduled for the fall of 2017. The first requires achieving outcomes related to finance, academic excellence and access, while retaining Cooper’s many distinctive characteristics. The second requires satisfying the 14 Standards of Excellence that MSCHE uses in its accreditation, which requires implementing and documenting a continuous cycle of setting institutional goals and assessing their outcomes.

Among the highlights:

• President Bharucha reported on four core institutional goals that the administration is pursuing. The four core goals are to: 1) achieve financial sustainability, 2) maintain excellence and merit, 3) improve access and affordability, and 4) preserve and build on Cooper’s distinctive characteristics.

» In pursuit of the first goal, a financial sustainability model was approved by the board in April 2013. Prior to that decision, projections showed that although a balanced budget would be achieved for one year (FY19)—the year when the next 10-year step-up in the Chrysler rent occurs—that would be followed by new and growing deficits indefinitely thereafter because of continued inflation-linked growth in expenses without a corresponding increase in revenues. In the new model, factoring in the additional revenues from new programs, balanced budgets are projected for the long term beyond FY19. Comparing results to date to the projections in the new model, a total of $17 million has been saved in operating costs during the period from FY13 through the approved FY15 budget. Together with better than anticipated endowment returns, these savings postponed by a year the date at which it was projected that, absent other funding, it would have been necessary to invade the endowment corpus to fund operating deficits (which, Chairman Lincer noted, is something that the board cannot allow to happen). The recently completed bridge loan provides sufficient funding to take us to FY19, after which successful implementation of the new model should result in sustainable budgets for decades into the future.

» The second goal (maintaining excellence and merit) was successfully attained for the current freshman class, as was the third (improving access and affordability). A nationally accepted measure of access is the percentage of enrolled students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants, which are available to low-income families. Over the past three years, Cooper’s percentage of Pell-eligible students has ranged between 15 percent and 16 percent. For the current freshman class, it is 22.4 percent. Regarding the fourth goal (preserve and build on Cooper’s distinctive characteristics), a number of such characteristics were discussed, including our conservatory-style and cohort pedagogy, our unique mix of schools (fostering the translation of thinking into making), and the renaissance of the East Village and New York City as a technology and design hub.

• Vice President for Enrollment Services Mitchell Lipton reported that the Office of Admission will work with the schools of art, architecture and engineering to ensure that the level of talent and accomplishments represented in this year’s freshman class is sustained in future classes. The process of admission will continue to be based solely on merit. The office will maintain a student aid program that provides additional need-based and merit aid, over and above the 50 percent base tuition scholarship to each student, to help students with financial need cover the total cost of attending Cooper Union. Over time, with successful fundraising, the office will seek to increase the overall aid budget to further augment support for students from low- and middle-income backgrounds.

• In her capacity as chief academic officer, Teresa Dahlberg will work with the schools to monitor progress in developing planned programming, including increased enrollment and new academic programs, so as to ensure that Cooper maintains the academic excellence of its offerings while meeting its financial targets. Dahlberg also will chair the Middle States self-study and oversee the assessment that is required.

• Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin described initiatives to support student success, including adding internship and career mentoring opportunities, augmenting on-campus interviewing and supporting students applying for awards. To provide new services and advocacy for students, the Office of Student Affairs is expanding on-campus counseling services, extending the network of health care providers, and establishing an internship in multicultural affairs.

• Director of Development Jeanne Lunin noted the upward trajectory of total cash receipts and annual fund giving over the past three years. She described measures taken to establish best practices in major gifts, planned giving, institutional giving and the annual fund, as well as efforts to build Cooper’s prospect pool in the tri-state area and nationally. She cited specific successes in which development officers worked with the academic deans to identify funding priorities that garnered donor support. She also reiterated that generating support for increased levels of student scholarships will be a high priority.

• Vice President for Communications Justin Harmon described plans to develop an integrated communications strategy for Cooper. It will be necessary to rearticulate the defining characteristics of Cooper’s academic program, relying in part on a list developed in community conversations involving faculty, students, staff and trustees. These characteristics include Cooper’s intensive cohort method of instruction, which foster both creativity and rigor, its unique mix of schools united by design thinking, and the interconnected nature of academics and urban life. It will be essential to review communications routinely to see that they both convey Cooper’s identity and produce the desired results, particularly in admissions and fundraising.

• Vice President for Finance and Administration William Mea underscored his commitment to ensure that operating budgets adhere to the “guard rails” in the financial sustainability plan, while maximizing resources available for academic purposes and supporting new revenue-generating programs. His office will undertake a review of administrative functions and staffing to identify potential cost savings and productivity enhancements, as well as to see that departmental goals are aligned with institutional strategy. He will ensure that Cooper’s operations remain aligned with the plan for long-term sustainability and thus protect the corpus of the endowment.

• Vice President for Student Affairs and Community Relations Dean Baker described initiatives to build a sense of community both among students and in the surrounding neighborhood. He noted the success of the orientation offered at the start of the academic year, in which over 200 freshmen participated alongside deans, upperclassmen and alumni. Other efforts have included the reconfiguration of space in the Residence Hall to foster engagement between students and student affairs staff, school-wide events and communications, and outreach with community organizations.

Title IX Presentation

Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin delivered a presentation on new requirements under Title IX issued by the U.S. Department of Education and the White House. He reported on The Cooper Union’s new policy to ensure that all members of the Cooper Union community understand what conduct is prohibited, are aware of the resources available to those who may have experienced sexual misconduct, and know how to file a complaint at the institution and what the investigation and adjudication procedure will be.

Campus Security

Chairman Lincer reported that the administration is currently identifying alternative qualified security vendors and that BDA and The Cooper Union are working together to develop a plan to transition to another security firm. In the interim, BDA will continue to provide its services to Cooper, and Vice President Mea expressed confidence that BDA’s professionals will continue to put the safety of our community first, as they have throughout their association with Cooper.

Report by Student Representative

Student Representative Devora Najjar proposed having a reception at which students could meet members of the Board of Trustees in an informal setting. The trustees expressed interest in such an event and asked the Office of Student Affairs to work with the Joint Student Council to plan it.  Chairman Lincer also noted that there had been several meetings between groups of trustees and the Ad Chairs, which had been constructive in facilitating communication about issues of concern on both sides, and that it was planned to continue to hold these on a periodic basis throughout the school year.

Ms. Najjar talked about the lack of communal student space and the potential benefit associated with rethinking student lounge space as a way to foster greater interaction among students from the three schools. Dean Dahlberg articulated the need for a comprehensive space planning effort to address academic space needs for new programs, and noted that such process will include input from students and also explore possibilities for communal student space. Dean Chamberlin noted that the Menschel Room in the Residence Hall has been repurposed as a communal space. It is open to all students across campus, although it was recognized that it is most easily accessible to students living in the Residence Hall.

Discussion of Best Practices for Alumni Affairs

In response to a request by the Executive Committee of the Board this summer, Caitlin Tramel, director of alumni affairs, presented a vision for the Office of Alumni Affairs rooted in best practices for alumni engagement and advancing institutional goals. The presentation led to a discussion on current alumni engagement, alumni giving and the nature of the relationship between The Cooper Union and the Cooper Union Alumni Association. The Board leadership undertook to continue the dialogue with the alumni trustees.

School of Art Present​ation

Dean Saskia Bos presented a report for the School of Art covering 2012-2014. The dean also presented slides of student work to demonstrate student learning outcomes.

  • 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.