Yesterday afternoon, 12 students at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art barricaded themselves at the top of a campus building to protest the potential implementation of tuition fees, which have not been charged for any of its students in the past 110 years. The students have successfully kept administrators and security officials out and plan to remain in the room until the university meets their demands, which include a commitment to continuing free education and a more transparent and democratic decision-making process.
Cooper Union’s new president Jamshed Bharucha has been trying to solve financial problems that he did not inherit but the university has nonetheless accrued over recent decades from unsustainable monetary practices. For the cultural and academic identity of Cooper Union, one of the nation’s most prestigious bastions of affordable academia, such a change would be a jolting shift in tradition. It is therefore understandable that students are angered by the potential change, a change that would undermine the school’s esteemed mission to deliver a free education to its 1,000 undergraduate students.
Their goals resonate with us here at NYU, where our tuition is exorbitant and our financial aid far less generous than that of Cooper Union. In fact, the ongoing protest is partly inspired by the 2009 occupation of Kimmel Market Place by a group called Take Back NYU, which demanded lower tuition and more transparency in the administration, among other changes. That protest failed to effect change at NYU, but we hope that the Cooper Union students are more successful.
With schools nationwide struggling with financial aid in the current economic climate, need-blind scholarships seem rather utopian. On top of that, the physical wall separating the students from the administration mirrors the figurative barricade present in their current communication channels. While their extreme measures have successfully garnered attention to their cause, these students may be impeding their own efforts by resorting to ultimatums rather than open communication.
It may be true that Cooper Union simply cannot afford to continue functioning without charging some amount of tuition. However, as the protesting students argue, they should, first and foremost, be part of the decision-making process.
Because of Monday’s bold statement, the ball is in the administration’s court for the first time because 110 years of progressive educational history now rests on how they respond.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 4 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.