Agreement Reached on Lawsuit Over Cooper Union Tuition

Agreement Reached on Lawsuit Over Cooper Union Tuition

The Committee to Save Cooper Union has announced an agreement with New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman and the board of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art that would resolve the lawsuit it filed contesting the school's decision to begin charging tuition.

Founded in 1859 by philanthropist Peter Cooper with the mandate that it be "open and free to all," Cooper Union began charging tuition in 2014 — currently about $20,000 a year — saying it faced financial disaster otherwise. After the Committee to Save Cooper Union, which includes Cooper Union students, alumni, and faculty, filed the lawsuit in May 2014, Schneiderman's office began an investigation into the board's management of the school's $735 million endowment. Under the consent decree signed by the three parties, tuition fees will remain in place, but the board will be expanded to include student trustees, additional alumni trustees, and faculty and staff representatives while a special committee works to develop a plan over the next three years to return the school to a tuition-free model. The agreement also requires transparent disclosure of board materials, budget documents, and investment results, and the creation of a committee to further reform the school's governance. In addition, the attorney general's office will appoint an independent financial monitor to evaluate and report on the school's financial management, including compliance with the consent decree.

Schneiderman's office also filed a cy près that details its findings and issues a scathing rebuke to the Cooper Union board and former president Jamshed Bharucha, who resigned from his position in June 2015. The "investigation reveals that Cooper Union has paid a steep price" for its risky schemes, misrepresentations, and poor governance practices, the petition states, "including, at least temporarily, its free-tuition tradition, as a result of shortcomings in its oversight and management functions over the past decade." Bharucha's financial plan for the school was built on "mainly optimistic assumptions and inadequate risk assessment," the petition further states. "Throughout most of President Bharucha's term, the administration and the board continued the prior pattern of communicating inaccurate information to the community regarding the school's financial condition."

According to the Wall Street Journal, Cooper Union officials and board members "neither accept nor agree with the Investigative Findings set forth in [Schneiderman's petition] which, in addition to being incorrect and incomplete in numerous respects, fail to adequately credit the board's commitment and initiative."

"A tragic chapter in this great school's history has ended," Richard Emery, an attorney for CSCU, told the Journal. "Justice for Peter Cooper and all those who benefited from his great experiment is now a promise that must be kept."

"A Second Chance for Cooper Union." Committee to Save Cooper Union Press Release 09/01/2015. Mike Vilensky. "Cooper Union to Resolve Suit Over Decision to Charge Tuition." Wall Street Journal 09/01/2015.