Cooper Union president Jamshed Bharucha resigned from his post at the historically-free college on Wednesday, less than a year after the convocation of Cooper Union's first paying freshman class. Bharucha's announcement followed the resignation of five of the college's trustees on Tuesday, all supporters of the former president.
The last day of Bharucha's controversial four-year term is set for June 30th. Come fall, he'll serve as a visiting scholar at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Bharucha first proposed a plan to instate tuition at the college, which specializes in architecture and the arts, back in 2011, citing an "unavoidable" financial crisis. The news came as a shock to students, who believe strongly in the school's founding principals—Peter Cooper, who founded the college in 1859, never had formal schooling, and believed that education should be "as free as air and water."
The Board of Trustees officially announced that the college would start charging undergraduate students $19,000 last January (that's a 50% scholarship instead of a 100% scholarship), rejecting a 54-page report from a Working Group of alumni, staff and students that outlined exactly how this fate might be avoided—by cutting the president's salary and selling the college's resident hall, among other suggestions. In rejecting these suggestions, the Board upheld a plan first proposed in April 2013.
Undeterred, a group of Cooper Union professors, alumni, and students filed suit against the administration last May, arguing that the tuition can be hashed up to unnecessary expenditures. From the court papers: "President [Jamshed] Bharucha spent over $350,000 on his inauguration celebration... $50,000 of which went to pay celebrity guest speaker Fareed Zakaria." The president also allegedly spent "over $23,000 [on] expensive furnishings for the president’s house, including almost $10,000 on new blinds and over $8,000 for a custom buffet."
(Free Cooper Union Facebook)
Students and faculty weren't the only ones skeptical of the decision. This March, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a probe into the college's financial decisions, including a $175 million loan to build new facilities, a possibly-fishy presidential bonus, and, of course, the decision to charge tuition. The investigation is ongoing.
After Bharucha's resignation announcement, Free Cooper Union—a student organization founded in direct response to the college's "unfolding tuition and student debt crisis"—re-posted a December 2012 memo explaining the students' decision to occupy their former president's office. It reads, "This action is in response to the lack of transparency and accountability that has plagued this institution for decades and now threatens the college's mission of free education." The memo's third demand, after free education and transparency from the college's Board of Trustees, is: "President Bharucha Steps Down."
In an e-mail sent yesterday to students, faculty and alumni, and posted to Free Cooper Union's Facebook page, Bharucha wrote:
It has been an honor to serve as the 12th President of Cooper Union these past four years. The focus of my presidency has been to secure Cooper’s finances for generations of deserving students in the future, while preserving excellence and increasing socio-economic access.
The class completing its freshman year was the first to be admitted under the 2013 Financial Sustainability Plan, and the class just admitted will be the second. These two classes uphold Cooper’s unparalleled standard of excellence. With need-based financial aid, we have also been able to increase access to those who can least afford it...
In an official statement, the Board of Trustees added, "The financial exigencies with which [Bharucha] was confronted upon his arrival were not of his making and he deserves credit for sounding the alarm about the need to take urgent action to ensure Cooper Union’s long-term financial sustainability."
Others see it differently. Victoria Sobel, a recent alumna and member of Free Cooper Union, told us this morning, "The truth of the matter is that Bharucha almost succeeded in completely driving the school into the ground, and we're perhaps just in time to pull out of a nose dive." If, she said, "we really get some good leadership in place." Still, "It's a false victory until we get rid of the people who are in powerful positions that Bharucha put them into."
William Mea, Vice President for Finance and Administration, is set to step in as interim president on July 1st.