Laura Sparks Elected as First Female President of Cooper Union

She aims to stabilize Cooper’s finances.

Laura Sparks. Photo Courtesy: The Cooper Union

Laura Sparks, current executive director of the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia, has been named president of The Cooper Union for the Achievement of Science and Art, as of January 4, 2017. Sparks, rather triumphantly, will become the first woman to lead the institution.

The Cooper Union, historically a tuition-free institution, has faced criticism for unexpectedly setting-up a tuition fee system in 2014, in order to prevent bankruptcy. Fueled on by student protests, the decision led to an investigation into the institution’s finances by New York City Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Litigation ended last year, in September 2015, with the school agreeing to keep an independent monitor to track its finances and to establish a committee that will continue to explore ways in which to reinstate the tuition-free policy.

Sparks has addressed these financial concerns in the official statement, saying, “I am confident that together we can reaffirm our sense of mission, stabilize Cooper’s finances, and rebuild the trust of our constituents.” Sparks has specified further that she will be working with the institution’s faculty and student body in order to “identify a route to restoring full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduates.”

Sparks has a strong background in financial matters: as head of the William Penn Foundation, she managed the foundation’s $115 million grant budget on environmental and social issues. Prior to this, she served as senior vice-president for community development initiatives at Citigroup.

“We wanted someone who valued Cooper as a first-class, unique educational institution, and also has significant experience leading a large, complicated organization through challenging financial circumstances. Laura Sparks has both skill sets,” Johnny C. Taylor Jr., trustee and co-chair of the press search community said in the statement

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