Cooper Union Financial Meltdown Questioned By Faculty

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The board at Cooper Union, a 153-year-old college located right across the street from the Voice, is under fire for floating a plan to start charging tuition for the first time since 1902. The board claims that a financial crisis is forcing its hand, and that it needs new revenue streams to balance its books, and counter growing deficit that was about $16.5 million this year.

But the statements about the college's faltering finances has some people around campus scratching their heads.

Just a year ago, in 2010, a New York Times article heralded the retirement of former president George Campbell, crediting his work "stabilizing the college's finances." The article went on to note that its endowment had ballooned to $532 million in 2009, from a low of around $100 million in 2001.

And, in 2009, the Wall Street Journal wrote that the college had been able to avoid the financial losses plaguing other schools by "ratcheting back the financial risk in its endowment." "The college renegotiated a lease" to lock in rental revenue, "sold another parcel at a favorable price, raised its cash holdings and picked investment managers that hedged against stock market declines," the article states.

Faculty and staffers tell the Voice that they can't understand how things went south so quickly. Some are suggesting that the board is using the financial claims to do something it has been wanting to do for years.

"Everybody here wants to know what happened between 2010 and now," says an engineering professor. "Nobody can really tell you what the numbers are. There's a great deal of discontent here about why we are suddenly in this position."

One of the problems may be the cost of Cooper Union's new building at 41 Cooper Square. In 2006, the engineering faculty rejected the new building because they were cut out of the planning process. The board put out a memo this week saying that the building cost about $160 million, money that was partly raised and partly from lease payments on 51 Astor Place. The college also borrowed $175 million from Met Life.

Claire McCarthy, the school's director of public affairs, did not respond to e-mailed questions.


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