Cooper Union erupts into protest, April 23, 2013. (YouTube)
In December, I wrote an article about the occupation of Cooper Union in protest against the proposed implementation of tuition for undergraduates at the historically free art and engineering program.
This morning, at a public meeting, the Cooper Union Board of Trustees announced that they have ratified this proposal behind the backs of students and faculty. Cooper Union, which has been a tuition-free for undergraduates for more than one hundred years, will begin charging new students annual tuition of around $20,000 starting in the fall of 2014.
More than 200 students and faculty gathered today outside of the Foundation building in Cooper Square in Manhattan for a walk-out at 2 pm. Using similar theatrical tools that activists have employed in previous demonstrations, Cooper art and architecture students ran around the building hugging the walls in a human chain while chanting “Free as air and water…Save Cooper Union”. The students also held an “Irish wake”, setting a hat ablaze on the pavement and singing satirically in front of the same building students occupied some months ago. While some students seem disillusioned by the school’s decision, many more are angered that the Board of Trustees met secretly in the morning while students were in class to avoid any disruption of their meeting.
Many faculty members came out in support of the demonstration, canceling their classes so their students could attend. “We can not let them squander 150 years of civic and cultural capital” said Day Gleeson to MSNBC, referring to the Board of Trustees of Cooper. Professor Peter Buckley of the History Department at Cooper, sporting a bright blue sweater, also consulted with press and addressed the demonstration speaking out against the implementation of tuition calling out the trustees for their hypocrisy in their betrayal of the mission of the schools.
The Cooper students are planning on continuing their fight for a free and democratic university system; however, as the school year draws to an end, we fear that this tuition decision marks the end of free higher education in the United States. Still looking forward, students from across New York City are planning a May Day Student Convergence in Cooper Square where more festivities, theatrical demonstrations and popular teach-ins will be taking place under the umbrella of the NYC Free University.