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Students Sit-In Against 'Free' School Tuition Hike

Student: “Cooper is the canary in the coal mine of higher education today.”

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Students at New York's Cooper Union College have taken over the office of President Jamshed Bharucha Wednesday following an announcement that the traditionally 'free' school would now be charging incoming students.

“This is a non-violent direct action, you are not being held in this room, you are free to exit when you please," announced the organizing group, the Cooper Union Student Action to Save Our School.

"Jamshed Bharucha, we are here today to deliver you a statement of No Confidence from the School of Art, we no longer recognize your presidency at Cooper as legitimate and in so doing we commit to re-claim this office in the interim until a suitable administrative alternative is secured," they continue.

The action by the students follows an earlier decision by the Administration and the Board of Trustees to implement tuition for the incoming class of 2014, which opponents says is a "desecration" of the school's "154-year-old tradition of meritocracy and free education." 

The school's pledge to be 'free for all' had been its distinguishing feature since its 1859 founding by industrialist Peter Cooper. As The Chronicle Of Higher Education explains:

[H]e envisioned a place where education was as “free as air and water.” That goal became possible at the dawn of the 20th century, when Andrew Carnegie, as a member of the Board of Trustees, made a generous gift that was matched by Peter Cooper’s children. As President Bharucha tells it, “The then-president of Cooper, Abram S. Hewitt, decided to make it free for all.”

According to reports, instead of granting each student a scholarship for the full tuition, Cooper Union will now charge incoming students a tuition fee of $20,000 a year.

On Wednesday's protest against the free hike, over 50 students, faculty and staff are maintaining the sit-in.

Earlier, a contingent of students repainted the third-floor lobby of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building, changing it from white to black. Also, to celebrate May Day last week, students from across New York descended on the campus for a “May Day Convergence” against student debt and profit-driven higher education.

“Cooper is the canary in the coal mine of higher education today,” Joe Riley, a senior in the School of Art, told The Chronicle, referring to the "enormous education debt" held by many college students and alumni.

“Schools aren’t doing enough to provide for lower-income students, or even middle-class students.”

A live stream of Wednesday's action can be viewed below:

Live broadcast by Ustream


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