Freshman Orientation

Bruce Degen December 12, 2011

Back in 1962 the Cooper Union Freshman Orientation was a weekend at Green Camp, in Ringwood, NJ, the old Peter Cooper Estate. We were all told in very clear terms that the mission of Cooper Union was: a free education based on merit for the most talented and hard working students, and IF THEY EVER HAD TO CHARGE TUITION, THE SCHOOL MUST CLOSE ITS DOORS.
Despite what you may hear, this was the mantra of The Cooper Union, as told to us by the administration of the school. I did not invent this.
It was repeated at my wife’s freshman orientation at Green Camp in 1964.
It was understood to be so by my friend and mentor, Renee Darvin, when I was a high school art teacher. She was a 1950’s Cooper Art graduate, and went on to become one of the most inspiring art educators the city has ever had. She was for a time the Arts Director for all of the City of New York schools. There is a scholarship fund at Columbia Teachers College in her name established by the grateful students and colleagues in her memory. At her memorial service the number of people she inspired who could show up could not even fit into the large chapel, and spilled out to the sidewalks.
She would prepare high school seniors in portfolio class to apply to various schools, and to tell them about this gem, this unique institution, this holy grail in the pursuit of excellence, and that it was free, always MUST BE FREE and that is why it could select only the best, the brightest and the most committed. She would say, THEY MUST KEEP IT TUITION-FREE OR CLOSE THE DOORS.
Were we all being misled as to the mission of Cooper?
Whatever you hear, remember, it once was clear. Beware of rhetoric that muddies the waters.
Bruce Degen