I was very excited to hear what the president had to say last night. That is, I was very excited before I got there. But then as the evening wore on I lost more and more confidence that the new president really believes the same things that the majority of students and faculty believe.
There seemed to be a big divide between his idea of what the night was about and most of the audience’s idea of what the night was about. From my perspective he wanted to start finding solutions to the financial dilemma now in an effort to keep the school open no matter what, saying again and again “I will not be the President to close Cooper Union.” This sounds good and noble by itself, but many of the people who were there, including myself, would like to agree ond what we are trying to preserve before discussing the best method to preserve it. The majority of students and faculty do not believe that tuition should be considered an option and he does, and this seems like a huge problem.
One young woman brought this up very clearly, saying to him that we need to know that that is not an option, and in my opinion, he basically ignored the question. I was furious. I wanted to be inspired by him to seek out new ways to preserve what is good and unique about this school, and instead I heard a bunch of numbers and the word “unsustainable” over and over again.
I agree that a sustainable solution is certainly something to strive for, but we must take the future of the students into account when we discuss what sustainable means. How sustainable is a educational system that puts young adults in tremendous debt the moment they enter the work force. How many people in our generation will be able to recommend higher education to their children, when so many feel that they get nothing out of it but a degree. Just because we could have a balanced budget does not mean we are sustainable.
So the president formed a “task force” to propose alternate solutions as a way to empower us. However, at the same time he shot down every conceivable other solution besides tuition. People said, what about alumni donations? he said you cannot rely on peoples generosity; people said what about big donors? he said, big donors give directly to the endowment so we only get 5% of what they give each year; people said, what about the budget, can’t we cut back? he said he wants to expand and that we could make more money if we grew to a certain size; people said why isn’t the board writing checks to bail us out or why didn’t they ten years ago? he said… nothing.
What is they task force supposed to suggest if they can’t rely on generosity from people, if they can’t rely on the gifts of a few very wealthy people, if they cannot find ways to cutback the budget, and if they cannot ask for any change from the board? I feel like the task force has been cut off at the knees before it even begins, and because of this, I feel like it was a political move that will distract us from the larger more fundamental disagreements we are having.
This last resort he wants to keep on the table will rip the soul out of the Cooper Union. It will become a shell of a former self. It will have graphs and numbers, and maybe even a balanced budget, but it will be dead while it continues to live.