As a proud alumnus of Cooper Union, I write the following post with the heaviest of heart.
The quotes below come from the New York Times March 9, 1904, in a tribute to Peter Cooper, during which Andrew Carnegie and others expounded on the responsibility that comes with great wealth. The director of Cooper Union, Charles Sprague Smith, spoke as well honoring the gift of $300,000 by Carnegie that made Cooper debut free “from basement to roof.” He went on to honor Abram Hewitt, son-in-law of Peter Cooper, former mayor, and father of New York’s subway system: “I know that the supreme desire of his life was that Cooper Union should be free. Every part of it is now free in every sense.”
It is no longer.
The values espoused eloquently in 1904 — albeit in self-congratulation — have now been repudiated by the decision of the board of trustees of Cooper Union to charge tuition beginning in 2014. Those who have guided this institution in recent years have failed in their trusteeship of this treasure of New York and the nation.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Cooper Union is too small, too specialized, to survive in direct competition with larger better-funded institutions. The fact that it was a full scholarship — free — college put it in a class by itself. It brought the best students and professors together in an egalitarian community unlike any other in the world.
That unique community of intellect and creativity has been sacrificed. Unless another Andrew Carnegie comes to the rescue quickly, or some other scheme is devised to return the school to its former mission, Cooper Union, in its now comprised state, will not likely survive.