A Welcome (Back) Message to the Community from President Sparks

Welcome! Whether you’re experiencing your first few days on campus or are a returning member of our community, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2017-2018 academic year at The Cooper Union.

A new school year always feels like a fresh start—a time to take stock, explore new possibilities, establish goals, and set priorities. It’s important to do that as individuals and as a community, and to do so in the context of the world around us. 

These last few weeks of summer have shown us the best and worst of humanity. As I write, stories of heroism and compassion continue to emerge from Texas as the nation rallies to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Regrettably, in mid-August, a rally of a different sort, one marked by hatred and racism that ended in violence and tragedy in Charlottesville, reminded us again that we still have so much work to do as a country to recognize the value in each other and realize that our potential as a collective is stronger when we celebrate our differences rather than let them divide us.  And, today, as we reconvene here on our campus in the East Village, the nation awaits the federal administration’s potential rescission of deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) while we remain steadfast in our commitment to every member of our community without regard to immigration or citizenship status.  It’s important to consider our reactions to events like these, to support and care for everyone in our community, to think about where we can lead, and to take action in helping to shape a more cohesive, civil society.

This kind of introspection, dialogue, and action is part of our DNA at Cooper—it was core to our founding and is central to our future. When Peter Cooper built the Foundation Building, he didn’t want it to be named for him. He simply placed the word “Union” on the building because he believed that this place could advance a more perfect union. Remember, he opened the doors here just before the Civil War, a time of intense division in the country. He believed that if he could convene all of the U.S. senators in the Great Hall, the nation could avoid a civil war. Of course, that didn’t happen, and while 150 years have passed, clearly the work of civil rights in this country is far from finished.  But it is in this spirit that The Cooper Union remains a place where we continue to press, to resolve the unfinished business that will make us stronger as a community and as a country.

This year, we’ll pursue this purpose and fuel our momentum through multiple avenues.

The Great Hall

Reenergizing our identity around social change, truth and justice is not only an homage to our founder, it is an indelible link to our future. Re-activating the Great Hall around these issues began last semester and will continue this academic year. So far in 2017, we’ve hosted Civil Rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, Senator Al Franken, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, investigative journalist Sacha Pfeiffer, and many others. 

Beginning tomorrow night, we’ll launch our fall programming in the Great Hall.  It’s an Art & Activisim Series, featuring:

·       Harold Holzer, one of the nation’s leading scholars on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era (Sept 6)

There’s still time to register for this free program – open to Cooper Union students, faculty, and staff. Go to www.nysarchivestrust.org and enter promo code COOPER.

·       Daniel Libeskind, alumnus and highly accomplished architect of urban, cultural and commercial projects worldwide who worked closely with many stakeholders to design the World Trade Center Master Plan, balancing the memory of the tragedy of 9/11 with the need to foster a vibrant and working neighborhood (Oct. 3)

·       Ai Weiwei, Chinese contemporary artist and activist who has used his art to protest government corruption, advance democracy, and promote human rights; collaboration with the Public Art Fund (tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12)

·       Patty Jenkins, alumna, screenwriter and film director of this summer’s blockbuster Wonder Woman and an increasingly important voice reminding us that women’s strength and power can come in many forms (tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12)

·       Bitter Laughter, an annual event presented by Vice Versa magazine exploring issues affecting Latin America and Spain through art, comics, and political satire; this year “Bitter Laughter” showcases the works of women cartoonists from those regions exploring sensitive subjects such as gender inequality and freedom of speech (Nov. 12, Rose)

·       Milton Glaser, alumnus and one of the nation’s most celebrated graphic designers who helped bring back the heart of New York City with his I Heart NY logo, and the only graphic designer to have received the National Medal of Arts award, the highest government honor awarded to artists, bestowed by the President of the United States (Nov. 13)

Check www.cooper.edu for ticket information in the coming days and weeks as we continue to add new programs.

Campus Conversations

Coming together, informally, to talk about issues, ideas and concerns—large and small—is the aim of our Campus Conversations. Back by popular demand, we have published a full schedule of President’s Office Open Houses (opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage and foster conversation across the institution) and Office Hours (opportunities for one-on-one conversation with me) beginning this month. Please visit Campus Conversations on our website for the schedule and to register for Office Hours.

Strategic Planning

Cooper’s strategic planning process is moving forward, with input and participation from across our community. This summer, the Board of Trustees received recommendations from the faculty and staff Mission Statement Committee and continues to work to shape a final mission statement for The Cooper Union. The Board is doing this work in tandem with the Free Education Committee’s efforts to develop a sustainable path back to free tuition. Through internal and external analyses and Community Conversations, you have helped provide the Board and me with critical insights as we study virtually every aspect of Cooper. In the spring, I formed a Community Planning Collaborative (CPC), and this group continues to grow as we seek to round out representation with additional Art and Architecture students and members from Admissions and Outreach Programs. As the Board of Trustees reviews institutional assessments and sets broad priorities for The Cooper Union, the CPC will provide us with important feedback and ideas for implementation. If you are interested in participating, please contact Lauren Desiderio at laurdesi@cooper.edu.

Our work to date has identified key themes related to academic and student affairs that are priority areas. They include a desire to prioritize the vitality of our academic programs and our broader social purpose; more robust academic support for students and faculty; enhanced physical and mental health resources for students; and more opportunities to create powerful synergies through multi-sector, multi-disciplinary projects, partnerships and professional opportunities for our students and graduates. Our aim is to complete the strategic planning process by this spring, so I look forward to actively engaging our community in this process this fall.

A Place for All

A new Diversity & Inclusion Task Force has also taken shape. I established this group to explore the gender diversity issues identified by the Faculty-Student Senate last year but also to examine diversity and inclusion more broadly across academics, student life, and operations.  These ideals of cultivating a welcoming and fully engaged community that benefits from our diversity of thoughts, backgrounds, and experiences are not only our legacy, they are also areas in which we should continue to lead. Sam Keene, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Antoinette (Toni) Torres, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Institutional Effectiveness, are Task Force co-chairs. Look for more information coming from them soon.  

As I shared with our new first-year class when they arrived on campus last Sunday, a Cooper Union education comprises not only what happens in a classroom or a studio. Yes, that is critical, but our learning also happens in the Great Hall, in dorm room conversations, in chance meetings in our hallways and the nooks of our academic buildings. It happens in the city of New York and beyond. Amidst the daily buzz of our day-to-day, let’s remember that the canvas of a Cooper education is far-reaching. Let’s make sure we take time to get to know each other, to learn from each other’s curiosity, to create the moments of kindness and generosity.  Together, these seemingly small, individual moments build the trust and shared community required to create a dynamic environment that allows people to take creative and intellectual risks, which when fueled with all of these ingredients, result in new ideas that can change the world.

Realizing big ideas, inspiring and nurturing revolutionary approaches, learning new things about ourselves, and advancing our community, our city and our country as a result… that’s the story of The Cooper Union. I’m so glad you’re all here. It’s time to get started.

With great anticipation for the year ahead,

Laura Sparks

  • 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.