Photo by Matt Sekellick
The clock tower of the Foundation Building of Cooper Union on 3rd Avenue and 7th Street in Manhattan stopped at 12:40 pm on December 3 signifying the start to the occupation of the Peter Cooper suite, a studio room behind the clock where twelve students barricaded themselves yesterday. The students mounted the protest to urge the school not to begin charging tuition to undergraduates.
The taking of the 8th floor was followed by the quick arrival of security staff and administrators who tried to literally saw their way through the bolted door. These attempts were put on hold out of fear of injuring the students that were physically defending the space with their bodies pressed against the barricades.
Aside from military schools across the US, Cooper Union is one of eight free higher education institutions in the country. Founded by philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, the school is known for its rigorous admissions program and a curriculum providing free, high-quality education for the brightest and most innovative budding engineers and artists from all over the world. Cooper himself asserted that university was founded on the idea that education at the institution would be as “free as air and water”, and its mission being to create access to art education to students regardless of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status.
Like the City University of New York [a public institution that first implemented tuition in 1975, at which the cost of education has gone up 500% for students since], Cooper Union was free through the Great Depression. However, over the past several years the Board of Trustees has been devising plans to address the institution's growing deficit of 16.5 million dollars, largely the result of an expansion plan, by shifting the weight of administrative spending onto the shoulders of students and their families. The school says it has not made a decision on charging tuition for undergraduates but in April, it broke precedent by instituting tuition costs for graduate students for the first time in its 110-year history.
The twelve occupiers students along with the group, Students for a Free Cooper Union, released a statement with three tough demands:
1) The administration publicly affirm the college’s commitment to free education.
2) The Trustees immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating open flows of information and democratic decision-making.
3) The President of the college, Mr. Bharucha, step down from his position.