In American schools, the value of education has been entangled with material wealth. Many students are encouraged to pursue higher learning as a means of securing a job, not as a means of securing consciousness.
I came to the Cooper Union with the hope of consciousness. And that hope was encouraged by what Cooper has claimed as its founding philosophy: that all people are entitled to an education. If all were truly entitled, higher education could not be misconstrued as a way to have an advantage over others in the job market. American education ought to be redefined not as a means to employment, but as a means to intelligence, creativity and integrity–something that all people deserve to cultivate.
Cooper’s full-tuition scholarship is not simply a $30,000 gift from the institution, it is a redefinition of the value of education. The education Cooper enables is not just the gratis version of another school’s program, it stands for a much more worthwhile ideal of education.
In answer to the administration’s call for new ideas that might help with this current crisis, I’d like to submit that no idea which further aligns this school with financial value is fit for the ideal Cooper defines. The Cooper Union must remain a place where educational worth is never confused with the financial, not through tuition, not through research grants or expansion. The project of the Cooper Union should be to learn how to operate based on its own, unique values.
What kind of education would match our founding philosophy, that all people are entitled to an education? We need to work towards creating the sustainable program which best embodies that philosophy. Any solution that does not embody this philosophy will change the meaning of our school in a way that would destroy its uniqueness in this nation’s failing educational system.
Students come here under the agreement that the tuition gift we are given each year will be matched by our own dedication, and that our dedication will in turn be challenged by the school’s unique programs. If the true value of this school–the intelligence, creativity and integrity that is fostered in its students–becomes in any way compromised, then it would not continue to exist as an institution any nobler than any other school in America.