Several people point out that we are rallying around the phrase “free as air and water”—a phrase that Peter Cooper never used. However, we do not support these words because of who said them. We support them because they are part of what are school is now, and what it should continue to be in the future. Peter Cooper’s legacy is wonderful, but we should not compromise our hope for the future by bringing up pointless facts from the past.
It does not matter that Cooper Union charged tuition at some point in its past. The point is that it is essential to the future of the school that we continue to provide this opportunity to future students. This is especially true given the recent events with Occupy Wall Street. We feel atmosphere of discontent surrounding us; discontentment that stems from dishonesty and those on top taking advantage of those below.
Cooper is a beacon of hope for America. It has many flaws, like any institution, but its strongest redeeming qualities are its interdisciplinary philosophy, and its guarantee of a fully paid tuition for students regardless of their economic background. We must secure this, not only for Cooper students, but as a symbol of hope.
If we become one more institution that seeks to preserve its short-term gain by compromising its core values, we will be useless. There will be absolutely no incentive for anyone to support such a place, because we will be exactly like the next school. Perhaps our school’s reputation will bolster this model for a few years (long enough to secure the reputation of the current President), but what about a few decades down the line? The quality of education will diminish as soon as any student becomes a customer. Teachers will loose the unique relationship they have to their students that is only possible if they do not feel as though they were “hired” by the students, and the administration will no longer be able to make decisions based on their educational merits because everything will have to be measured against how well it does for the school financially.
Maybe Peter cooper never said “as free as air and water”, and yes, we all know education will always “cost” something, just as we all know that water is not exactly free. But this phrase stands for something, and we should all stand behind it together.