Bharucha and board allies are gone, but Cooper Union probe, tuition suit remain

Jamshed Bharucha recently resigned as The Cooper Union’s president.
Jamshed Bharucha recently resigned as The Cooper Union’s president.

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  The Cooper Union made headlines in recent weeks with the resignation of President Jamshed Bharucha and other school officials who pushed for the adoption of tuition at the 155-year-old East Village university.

Bharucha announced the move in a June 10 e-mail to the campus community. He offered no rationale for the decision except to write that he would serve as a visiting scholar at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Pressure had continued to mount during the final months of his four-year tenure as a state investigation into the finances of the elite school continued. The probe, by Attorney General Eric Schneidermen, concerns $100 million in construction costs, executive compensation, a $175 million loan and the use of the land beneath the Chrysler Building, which the school owns, as collateral, The Villager reported on April 9.

The campus community meanwhile also awaits a court decision, originally expected in the spring, which could determine if the school violated its founding documents by making students pay for their education starting last fall.

Bharucha’s parting letter included one last defense of implementing tuition at the historically free institution. His opinion was echoed by a statement from the school’s board of trustees — five of whom had resigned just hours before — as well as the dean of the College of Engineering and Chief Academic Officer Teresa Dahlberg.

The resigning trustees were Mark Epstein, Francois DeMenil, Catherine Bond Hill, Daniel Libeskind and Monica Vachher, according to the Committee to Save Cooper Union, an organization of students, faculty and alumni opposed to tuition at the school.

“The financial exigencies with which [Bharucha] was confronted upon his arrival were not of his making and he deserves credit for sounding the alarm about the need to take urgent action to ensure Cooper Union’s long-term financial sustainability,” the board’s statement read.

William Mea, Cooper’s vice president for finance and administration, assumed a new role as interim president on July 1. The search for a new president will start following the appointment of a search committee by the trustees in the fall. Faculty, students and alumni comprise the committee, according to Cooper Union spokesperson Justin Harmon.

Several of the open trustee positions will likely be filled by year’s end, Harmon said. The committee will likely need about one year to decide on a new college president, he added. Other administrative appointments, including Dahlberg’s replacement, will fall under the the new president’s purview, according to Harmon.

The timeline offers plenty of time for the opposing sides of the tuition battle to vie for position in selecting new college leaders who could ultimately determine the future cost of Cooper Union students’ education. Members of the Committee to Save Cooper Union — which is the plaintiff against the board of trustees in the lawsuit surrounding the tuition issue — were quick to celebrate the resignation, while noting in a statement that their efforts to reinstitute a tuition-free Cooper Union will continue.

The committee also urged in the statement that the college community remain engaged even though top tuition advocates have left.

“Getting rid of key players will not be enough,” the statement said. “Implementing rigid structures, best practices and good leaders will not be enough. Adjusting the variables within an existing model of higher education will not be enough. Moving forward will require acknowledging years of bitter conflict, comprehensively assessing our present state, envisioning painfully distant ideals, and working cooperatively.”