This is a post I’ll be adding a lot of updates to, I suspect.
As of this evening, five members of the Cooper Union board of trustees have resigned. They did not go quietly.
From the letter of resignation of Mark Epstein, the former chair of the board:
As a Trustee, I am hereby resigning from the Board, effective immediately. During my term as Chairman we were able to put the school on a path to sustainability. It was going to be a difficult path with some hurdles to get over. We were on our way, but have now gotten so far off of that path due to the actions (or inactions) of the Board that I no longer want to participate. I know that there are some in the Cooper Community that will take my resignation as a false victory of some sort. I am not resigning due to any pressure from that group, rather that I no longer want to associate with them.
As a donor, I am withdrawing my financial support for the college. Although I respect the rights of those of the faculty, alumni, and students, to act as they see fit, I no longer want to support them.
If the schools fail in the future, it will not be due to the change in the scholarship policy (a major part of the sustainability plan) as some will claim. It will be due to the organized opposition to it.
This is … extraordinary.
“I no longer want to participate.” “Some will take my resignation as a false victory.” “I no longer want to associate with them.” “I am withdrawing my financial support.” “If the schools fail, it will not be due to [the imposition of tuition] as some will claim. It will be due to the organized opposition to it.”
On the internet, we call that a flounce.
The context for this resignation — and those of the other four trustees who left today — is the ongoing struggle over the future of Cooper Union. A series of deeply questionable financial decisions led the trustees to impose tuition at Cooper for the first time not long ago, leading to massive student and alumni protests and an investigation of institutional mismanagement by the state’s Attorney General. This spring the trustees offered to depose widely-despised Cooper Union president Jamshed Bharucha in hopes of resolving the AG’s probe.
The trustees who resigned today were supporters of Bharucha and nemeses of the student and alumni activists.
Daniel Libeskind was another of the trustees who quit today. Here’s a quote from his resignation letter:
I do not support the leadership and direction of this Board. I believe that decisions being taken are not in the best interest of Cooper Union.
So here’s the thing about Daniel Libeskind, a prominent celebrity architect — two months ago he went to the Wall Street Journal to complain at length about the state of the Cooper trustees. Trustee deliberations and actions were supposed to be held mostly in confidence, but Libeskind ignored that mandate while excoriating others for sharing much more minor tidbits.
Cooper Union was tuition-free for well over a century. That changed a mere seventeen months ago. Among the trustees who resigned today were some of the staunchest supporters of charging tuition. I’m not saying that these resignations mean that the tuition policy is about to be reversed — honestly, I’m not saying that. But that policy has carried an air of inevitability and inexorability since well before it was formally implemented, and now … well, let’s just say it’s hard to know what’s inevitable now.
“I am withdrawing my financial support from the college.” I mean, it’s one thing to stop donating. It’s quite another to announce that you’re going to stop donating, and to do so in your resignation letter.
The word that keeps coming to my mind is petulant.
As I write this, it’s almost 11:30 pm. Word of the trustees’ resignation hit Twitter at 6:35 pm — nearly five hours ago. But there’s not a single word about the story at any news outlet, or (as far as I can tell) at any of the other blogs that have been covering this story.
Oh, and one more thing. Mark Epstein, who today said that he is “withdrawing [his] financial support from Cooper Union” because he doesn’t support the policies of the majority of the CU trustees, said this in 2011:
“If [alumni] are that pissed off about Cooper Union and don’t want to give back, then I suggest they give back their degrees. You I mean, how do you answer a question like this: why don’t people give back to a school that gave them a free education worth now a hundred-some-odd thousand dollars? To me it’s baffling, it truly is.”
And yes, Epstein is a Cooper Union grad.
It’s baffling. It truly is.
Update | I’ve fleshed out this post with more context and more links, but there’s still nothing in the media about this extraordinary story. I expect the next shoe will drop with a bang, though — I’ll keep you posted here and on Twitter when it does.
Second Update | Brian Boucher at Artnet has a thorough story up on the resignations, adding the detail that the Cooper trustees have a meeting scheduled for today.
Third Update | News coverage of yesterday’s resignations has been trickling in all day, and I’ll have more to say about that soon. But first, here’s the other shoe: Jamshed Bharucha just announced his resignation as president of Cooper, effective as of the end of this month. The resignation letter says he will take up a position as a visiting scholar at Harvard in the fall. A statement from the Cooper Union trustees says that vice president for finance and administration William Mea will serve as interim president until a new president is chosen, and that the search committee for Bharucha’s replacement “will include representation from the faculty, students and alumni.”
Mea served in various administrative roles at three different universities before joining Cooper Union last September.
Fourth Update | The Wall Street Journal has the most thorough story on yesterday’s resignations to appear so far, and the only one to include an interview with one of the outgoing trustees. In that piece, Mark Epstein says that the board’s efforts earlier this year to nudge Bharucha out were “a terrible move,” and that “Jamshed was the right person to lead the school going forward.”
The WSJ story also includes a quote from a representative of the Attorney General, who says that while their investigation of Cooper is “still ongoing,” the AG office is “pleased that recent discussions with members of the board and school community have been both cooperative and productive.”
Fifth Update | The WSJ story has been updated with news of Bharucha’s resignation, and with a quote from Teresa Dahlberg, the Cooper Union chief academic officer, who resigned last month after two years on the job. “The Cooper Union Board of Trustees has been dysfunctional, with various factions supporting contrary goals,” she said. “Until board leadership is able to unite the board, no person serving as president will be able to unite the community.”
The eagerness of those who wound up on the losing side of this struggle to salt the earth behind them as they leave Cooper Union is remarkable and ugly.