NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A storied New York college is facing off in court with students and faculty who want to stop it from charging undergraduate tuition for the first time in over a century.
Lawyers for the students and professors were facing off against attorneys for Cooper Union‘s trustees at a hearing as the school prepares to start collecting tuition for this fall’s term. Bills already have been sent.
“The most fundamental change in the history of Cooper Union is being undertaken,” said Richard Emery, a lawyer for the students and faculty members.
“We need to investigate these poor financial decisions and uncontrolled spending and demand accountability,” Adrian Jovanovic, a Cooper Union alumnus, told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
Cooper Union Spokesman Justin Harmon told Diamond that there is nothing in the school’s charter that promises a free education.
“Those are specious allegations. The fact is that the college has seen literally decades of a structural deficit,” Harmon said.
Counting about 1,000 undergraduates, the 155-year-old school is renowned for its architecture, arts and engineering programs and its own history. Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “right makes might” anti-slavery speech there in 1860, the NAACP held its first public meeting there in 1909, and it provided a platform for leaders of the labor movement.
Undergraduates paid tuition before 1902, but the school became free after a gift from industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Trustees voted last year to start charging tuition again — up to $20,000, depending on students’ ability to pay — beginning with students entering this fall. The trustees cited multimillion-dollar deficits.
“Although the decision to reduce scholarship aid was very difficult given Cooper Union‘s tradition of providing full-tuition scholarships, under the founding documents, it was the board’s decision to make,” their lawyers wrote in court papers last month. Graduate students began paying tuition a couple of years ago.
But some students and professors say the financial crunch stems from mismanagement and could be solved in other ways. Cooper Union has a major, unusual source of cash: it owns the land beneath the Chrysler Building.
The two sides dispute whether the school’s charter requires free tuition.
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