Eleven students and one student journalist have occupied a building at Cooper Union to protest the university administration's decision to consider charging tuition at the historically tuition-free institution.
Planned in concert with a Dec. 3 day of action that included a teach-in and a summit on debt and education, the students barricaded themselves inside the university's Foundation Building on Monday. The students have demanded the resignation of Cooper Union president Jamshed Bharucha and hung a banner from below the Founding Building's iconic clock tower that reads "Free Education for All." Individuals who appear to be the protesting students are livestreaming the occupation through the OccupyNYC livestream channel. Protesters could be heard cheering, apparently from outside the building, over the livestream.
Cooper Union responded to the protest action with a statement.
"Our priority is for the safety of our students, and to assure that the actions of a few do not disrupt classes for all," the statement reads. "The eleven art students who have locked themselves in the Peter Cooper Suite do not reflect the views of a student population of approximately 1,000 architects, artists and engineers. President Jamshed Bharucha has held informal meetings with various groups of students on campus throughout the morning. Vice President of Finance T.C. Westcott is in contact with the students’ designated spokesperson, and we understand that they have access to food, water and sanitary facilities."
However many they number, students and sympathizers were chiming in via social media using the #strikedebt and #FreeCooperUnion hashtags. A @freecooperunion account on Twitter that was launched just before Thanksgiving now has several hundred followers. The protesters also caught the attention of @strikedebt. Students at the zero-tuition university do not currently face the threat of rising tuition rates and student debt. But Cooper Union announced in April that university officials had approved a tuition scheme for future graduate students.
The 2009 school addition at 41 Cooper Square, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Thom Mayne, FAIA, served as a backdrop to snapshots of the protest today and yesterday. Critics have said that the decision to build the $111.6 million addition are of a kind that have put the school's unique financial situation in jeopardy.