After 65 days, the Cooper Union students holed up in President Jamshed Bharucha’s office ended their occupation last Friday. Student organizers announced the decision to vacate via Twitter midday Monday.
While vacating the office may have ended the direct conflict between the Cooper Union and its administration, the dispute over the school’s decision to begin charging tuition will enter a new phase of deliberation over the institution’s budget. Part of the accord struck by student occupiers and the administration was the formation of a committee to reanalyze the school’s finances to identify savings.
In a statement released by occupiers, the administration has agreed to open its books to a 16-member working group of students, faculty, and alumni, which has until December 2013 to “leave no stone unturned” in its effort to keep Cooper Union free. They have also agreed to included a student member of the Board of Trustees and open a communal space for students, faculty, and alumni. The space will obey Cooper Union’s building hours.
The prevailing mood is one of cautious optimism. Occupying student Victoria Sobel says that “We, and the rest of Cooper’s community believe that when our efforts and experience are added to the board’s, that we will find a way back together to Peter Cooper’s vision of education that is as “free as air and water.”
Barry Drogin, publisher of the Cooper Union-affiliated Alumni Pioneer, tells the Voice that the agreement is an “optimistic step” in the fight to ensure continued free education, noting that he is “hopeful that this new working relationship to continue the full scholarship for all enrolled students.”
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He adds that those involved in discussions of the final draft of the agreement were under no illusions about what the work of the 16-member commission would be. Their jobs would be to address the institution’s financial crisis such that all the schools constituencies–students, faculty, alumni, staff, and the administration–share the burden equitably.
“It’s not that this group is going to try and work out some kind of win-win solution,
Drogin says. “It’s that its going to try to work out a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose-lose situation.”
And while wrangling with the numbers, the working group must also seek the assent of each of its constituencies, which Drogin suggests will form the bulk of the work that needs to be done between now and December.
The occupiers maintained a lively social media presence throughout the occupation. On the morning of their last day in Bharucha’s office, they posted a video to Vine bearing the hopeful caption: “The sun just rose on 65 days of occupation at Cooper Union.”