Cooper Union, a small art, architecture and engineering school in the middle of downtown Manhattan, was one of the last colleges in America where students could get a completely free education. But next year, thanks to gross mismanagement of its endowment (the center of which was the construction of a huge, expensive, unneccesary new engineering building), and an administration unwilling to protect its historic mission of an education “as free as air and water”, Cooper Union will begin charging tuition.
Last December, students occupied the top floor of Cooper Union’s main building in an attempt to stop the threatened tuition. But the occupation failed to change the administration’s plans, and in April, in a closed meeting, the board decided that the incoming class of 2018 would face tuition of up to $19,000 a year.
On May 8th, students reoccupied, this time taking over Cooper president James Bharucha’s office. Though current students will never have to pay tuition, they have occupied the building to attempt to preserve free education for future students and force a change in leadership on the board. So far they have held the office in an open occupation, and students are determining next steps they can take to build the struggle.
In an incredibly cynical statement which is something of a masterpiece of its form, Bharucha responded to the occupiers by attempting to reframe their experience as “traumatic”, and claiming that he and the rest of the administration share in mourning “the loss” that come from this decision. By doing so, he entrenches the notion that the tuition increase was inevitable and out of the control of the administrators, and pretends gratitude toward the occupiers—a tactic deisgned to split students and keep them from escalating or targetting the administration.
In the richest country in the world, the fact that a free higher education should be such an anomaly, such a utopian vision, is as absurd as it is obvious. A college degree has become a requisite for most high paying jobs, but it has also become a debt trap, a life-long indentured servitude which fills the coffers of college administrators, banks and loan organizations.
For more information and ways to support occupying students, you can follow @FreeCooperUnion on twitter.