Today is the day.
Today is the day that the Cooper Union trustees will hold their final vote on whether to impose tuition on this fall’s incoming class of undergraduates, or to, by adopting some other package of financial reforms, maintain Cooper’s status as the country’s most prominent and well-regarded tuition-free university.
The imposition of tuition at Cooper has been years in coming, and for much of 2013 it appeared all but inevitable. But student activists last summer forced the college to establish a formal working group to consider alternatives, and when that working group brought forward a robust, detailed plan for keeping Cooper free last month, the trustees blinked. Announcing that the proposal needed further review, they deferred final action for another day.
Today is that day.
As for what’s coming, nobody’s offering predictions, at least publicly. One active alumnus posted on Facebook last night that by his reckoning there are nine solid votes against tuition on the board, and five trustees clearly in favor. With twenty-three voting seats on the board, that would mean tuition opponents need to pick up three of the nine unknowns.
I have no sense of how reliable that count is, though, and no concrete inside information from other sources. Tuition opponents have a huge mountain to climb with the trustees — the Cooper Union president still supports tuition, and a minority faction of the working group has drafted its own report breaking with the majority’s recommendations.
But if it’s true that nine members of the board are prepared to vote to keep Cooper free, tuition supporters on the board have another question in front of them: Imposing tuition is one thing. Imposing it over the objections of nearly 40 percent of your institution’s trustees is quite another.
Yesterday Cooper Union trustee Kevin Slavin, an alumnus elected by alumni to the board last year, published a passionate defense of a free Cooper Union. The whole thing should be read by anyone who cares about higher education tuition policy, but I’ll close this post with a brief excerpt:
If you’ve never experienced it, “free” just seems like a lower number on a slider that has “half-price” in the middle. But free is not a number.
If you paid for your education, you’re likely to understand education in transactional terms. In straightforward economic terms, it means that if you charge some money, you can have some stuff. With more money comes more stuff, higher quality stuff.
But “free” is something different than “less.” And free is not less than cheap. It’s something else entirely.
4:45 Update | At 2:38 this afternoon the secretary of the Cooper Union board of trustees sent out an email to the campus community saying that the board meeting was over and that there would be “a communication from the Board … this evening concerning [its] outcome.”
Around the same time, alumni trustee Kevin Slavin posted the following on the Save Cooper Union Facebook page:
Over. Sitting w trustees and staff. Statement coming late tonight – from cooper but with my participation – and apologies I can’t say more now. Have pushed to make sure something is communicated today. Will be later in evening.
I can’t help but notice that neither statement specifically states that the board reached a decision on the tuition question. More when I get it.
5:55 Update | Less than an hour ago Slavin said on Twitter that the board was “working to send out a statement later tonight.” Fifteen minutes ago an editor at Architect magazine tweeted that an unnamed Cooper trustee had told him that “results on the Cooper Union board vote may not be made public until tomorrow.”
Evening Update | The trustees have announced that they voted to impose tuition. Much more tomorrow.