Five Cooper Union Trustees, Including Daniel Libeskind, Abruptly Resign

These are just the latest casualties in a bitter conflict that has raged since 2011.

The Cooper Union. Photo Drew Dies, via Flickr.
The Cooper Union.
Photo Drew Dies, via Flickr.

Five trustees of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the embattled New York college, have tendered their resignations in uncommonly bitter terms in an ongoing dispute over the school’s decision to begin to charge tuition after being free since its founding.

The resignees are architect François De Menil, former board chairman and real estate manager Mark Epstein, Vassar College president Catherine Hill, architect Daniel Libeskind, and investment banker Monica Vachner.

“I know that there are some in the Cooper Community that will take my resignation as a false victory of some sort,” Epstein wrote yesterday. He added, “As a donor, I am withdrawing my financial support for the college.”

“This is … extraordinary,” CUNY professor and historian Angus Johnston wrote in a June 9 blog entry, where he called the group resignation a “bloodbath.”

The college has been embroiled in conflict since 2011, when college president Jamshed Bharucha announced that the school was in such disastrous financial condition that it would have to begin charging tuition after granting full scholarships to all students since its founding in 1859. The school began charging tuition to incoming students in fall 2014.

Students and alumni have claimed financial mismanagement, board self-dealing and poor faith on the part of trustees in trying to find alternative models to keep the school afloat. They have sued the school (see Cooper Union Alumni Sue School Over Tuition Scheme), and the Attorney General has launched an investigation (see Scandal Erupts as New York Attorney General Investigates Cooper Union for Shady Financial Dealings).

All the resignees were advocates for charging tuition, and all were supporters of Bharucha, who was hired during Epstein’s tenure as board chairman.

The letters were published yesterday at a blog run by three Cooper Union faculty members ahead of a board meeting scheduled for today. artnet News has been unsuccessful in attempts to reach the signers for confirmation.

Epstein has not been shy about pointing fingers when asked who is to blame for the school’s dire financial straits. “If we have to go to the tuition model I would blame the alumni, 80% of whom do not donate to the school,” Epstein told a meeting of Cooper alumni, students and faculty in 2011. Ironically in view of his withdrawing his own support, he is a Cooper alum.

Libeskind’s letter was equally rancorous.

“As an alumnus of the school who had joined the Board recently, I expected that in this difficult time of change, there would be a meaningful and open discussion—one which would assure Cooper Union’s stability and future,” he wrote. “My experience was far from that.”


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