I graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in electrical engineering in 2001, and I moved to Japan a year later to pursue my career. I have not been back to the Bowery since then and did not keep tabs on Cooper, as I had faith that it would be the same unique and challenging institution of higher learning in 2059 as it was in 1859. I recently did a nostalgic Google walk through the old campus and was shocked to see the new 41 Cooper Square where the old Hewitt Building once stood. As an “outside” observer, my first reaction was that things must be going very well for such dramatic changes to be taking place during a global financial crisis. After writing a quick note to re-engage with one of my professors, I learned the reality is quite different – there is a very real threat that the school will no longer be able to continue the founder’s mission of providing a high quality, tuition-free education.
Across the country, there are protestors gathered who feel that the “the system” is unfair and has left them at a material disadvantage. Among their supporters are people who incurred substantial debt to pursue a college degree that they believed would help them to provide for their families and make a meaningful contribution to society. Unfortunately this vision has not become reality, and they are left with nothing but crushed dreams and crushing debt. I will always feel that the biggest advantage I had when I entered the “real” world was that I did not start with a punishing debt load. The only burden I bore when leaving Cooper was the burden of choice – the education I received provided such a solid foundation and so many opportunities that my sole concern was how to make the most of such a generous gift.
I currently work in finance in Tokyo, but it is not a career I intend to pursue for the rest of my working life. Some day I will come back to the United States and reboot my education and career, and the most powerful tool at my disposal is my degree from Cooper Union. For the benefit of all students and alumni I would like Cooper to do whatever is necessary to maintain its reputation for providing an education that is both free and “equal to the best”. This has probably been said many times before, but I will say it again here: what’s done is done, and the people in charge need to decide the best path to move forward, regardless of who is “responsible” for the current predicament. All the facts of the current financial situation need to be exposed to all stakeholders, and all options for solving the problems must be considered in an open and constructive format. There must be a way through this that will leave the soul of Cooper intact.
My education was as free as air and water. I hope that we never know a world where clean air and water have become so scarce that they are no longer free… and I hope that I never see a world where a Cooper Union education is no longer free to those willing to put in the time and effort to obtain it.