After years of roiling tension, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will announce a settlement between Cooper Union's board of trustees and a group of alumni and faculty who sued the school over alleged mismanagement. And free tuition may be back in play.

In 2013, the school announced that students entering in 2014 would start to pay tuition, reversing the explicit wishes of Peter Cooper when he founded the school in 1859. However, critics cited poor fiscal decisions—from its new $100+ million Thom Mayne building to spending $350,000 on a former university president's inaugural celebration to not charging market-rate rent for its Chrysler Building property (yes, the school owns that land!)—as the school's real undoing. The complaints prompted Schneiderman to investigate the school's finances, and Cooper Union's president resigned after the AG's office started its work.

The NY Times described the problems with the new building:

The college began construction after raising less than one-third of the building’s projected $120 million cost. Cooper Union had to take out a $175 million loan. The plan, according to the attorney general, “relied on optimistic assumptions to achieve long-term solvency, including an assumption it could invest $35 million in borrowed funds in the stock market and profit by making returns in excess of the loan’s interest rate.”

Then the market crashed in 2008. The $35 million was lost, and the financial plan collapsed, leaving the college with rising loan payments and deficit spending that threatened its endowment.

Schneiderman said of the deal, "It’s my job to promote and protect New York’s nonprofit sector, but we also have to step in to help institutions like Cooper Union when they face fiscal and governance problems. We’ll continue to monitor the school’s progress to make sure it’s on a path to long-term sustainability — and, I hope, free tuition."

The Committee to Save Cooper Union released these details about the settlement:

The changes dictated by the Consent Decree and cy pres petition [pdf] will enable Cooper Union to find a practical path back to its full scholarship model; give alumni, students, faculty, and staff a powerful role in Cooper’s governance; institute strict oversight of the school’s progress toward its goals; spur a serious effort to balance its budget; and reform its governance.

The confidential investigation by the Attorney General came about as a result of the CSCU’s lawsuit and has culminated in today’s announcement. According to the cy pres, the Attorney General intervened “to safeguard Peter Cooper’s irreplaceable gift to the people of New York.”

The Consent Decree and cy pres provide far more power to the community and genuine oversight than CSCU could have possibly gained with its lawsuit alone. Equally important, we can begin the process of restoring the mission of Cooper Union today—not after years of legal battles and appeals.

The Consent Decree and cy pres include the following provisions:

- Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees, together with the community, will work to return Cooper Union to a high-quality, sustainable, tuition-free model as soon as practical. A special committee of the Board will be dedicated to development of a strategic plan to return the school to its traditional tuition-free policy;
- Alignment of the trust and charter of the school, through the cy pres petition, to reflect the evolution of the institution into its modern form and provide for judicial oversight of the effort to return to a full tuition scholarship model;
- Expansion of the Board to include student trustees (2), additional alumni trustees (2), and faculty and staff representatives (6);
- Establishment of the Council of the Associates of Cooper Union—comprised of the alumni, student, and faculty trustees—with the charge to develop a full plan and proposal for The Associates of Cooper Union.
- Appointment of an independent financial monitor who will be responsible for evaluating and reporting on the financial management of Cooper Union, including compliance with the Consent Decree;
- Transparent disclosure of Board materials, budget documents, and investment results;
- Formation of a board committee to further reform the school’s governance; and
An inclusive search committee to identify the next full-term president.

Cooper Union Alumni Association president Nils Folke Anderson said, "In the spirit of Peter Cooper’s ‘Union,’ the CUAA stands united with the entire community, willing and ready to commence work on the immense challenge before us. We welcome this opportunity to provide additional alumni representation on the Board of Trustees, and pledge to do our part on the road ahead to restore the full scholarship model at Cooper Union.”

The efforts to challenge the administration's positions were the result of years of organizing and protests. Last year, one protester, 2013 graduate Casey Gollan, said of the new students who were the first to pay tuition, "In the past few years, there’s a culture that’s built up. The freshmen that came in this year, a lot of them came in knowing what Free Cooper was, knowing about actions, knowing about the administration, knowing about the lawsuit."

One Class of 2018 freshman said to us, "Even if our class never is given free tuition, the point isn’t about our individual problems. It’s more about the larger story and preserving the legacy of the school."