Cooper Union: Where’s the Money?

Faculty and students are pressing Cooper Union for a full, fiscal accounting

News earlier this week that New York’s venerable Cooper Union would begin charging tuition for the first time in more than a century was met with howls of predictable outrage and a good deal of genuine sadness. Something important is being lost. But the announcement, as distressing as it was, raises a whole bunch of questions. The first one, obviously, is: why now? The school points to its $12-million deficit. But this painful decision follows ten years of relentless deal making by the school: Cooper leased the empty parking lot on Astor Place for the garish Gwathmey Siegel-designed condos; it built a $111-million engineering building, designed by Morphosis; and entered into a real estate scheme that made way for the Fumiko Maki-designed colossus going up on Third Avenue. During more than a decade of wheeling and dealing, it’s safe to assume that a fair amount of money changed hands.To paraphrase Clara Peller: Where’s the money? Were all of these deals bad ones for the school? (Let’s not forget: Cooper owns the land underneath the Chrysler Building.) Did the school build glitzy high-profile architecture it couldn’t afford? It claims that the new facilities are not related to the push for tuition, but given the size and expense of running them, that seems dubious. Ariel Kaminer reported in the New York Times that Cooper is shelling out $10-million a year in “payments on a $175 million loan the school took out a few years ago, in part so that it could invest money in the stock market.” Faculty and students are pressing the school for a full, fiscal accounting. They need to know: Is the end of free tuition really the school’s only option? Or just the most expedient?

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