December 11, 2012
We are Arts & Labor, a working group of Occupy Wall Street dedicated to rectifying economic inequalities and exploitative working conditions in the culture industry. We are a group of art workers that includes students, alumni, staff and faculty of art colleges and universities.
We stand in solidarity with The Students for a Free Cooper Union, and commend the bravery of their recent week-long occupation of the Peter Cooper Suite. Not only do we support the students’ previous demands for free tuition, transparency, and the resignation of the President, we applaud the recent decisions of the students to take action to meet those demands themselves. We believe that access to a free education is a human right that should be extended to all.
The Cooper Union Board of Trustees and those at the highest levels of administration have spent decades mismanaging funds, carelessly dipping into the school’s endowment principal, and more recently building real estate they cannot afford. We are outraged at this reckless behavior that ignored the risks of a financial downturn, and we are appalled at the Board’s shameful response to this crisis. We stand adamantly against proposed austerity measures that would not only impose tuition, but would cut jobs, salaries and benefits for the already underpaid and understaffed Cooper Union workforce. We find it deplorable that it is the Cooper Union community itself, including faculty, staff and students, who are being forced to shoulder the financial burden imposed by the irresponsible and inept governance of the Board of Trustees. This course of action is akin to the bailout of large banks at the expense of the populace, while not a single banker was held accountable. For the Board of Trustees to use the community they serve as scapegoats for their own failures is nothing short of cowardice.
Furthermore, the President and the Board of Trustees are attempting to use pernicious, if by now familiar, divide and conquer tactics by proposing a false dilemma. They present harsh cuts to staff and faculty or tuition hikes for students as the only viable choices to save the school. This is not only a lie but a reprehensible scheme that pits these sections of the Cooper Union community against each other. It is the Trustees, not the students, staff or faculty, who should bear the consequence of their own mistakes and be held personally accountable for them.
Labor and student struggles are connected at all schools, particularly at The Cooper Union, where a large number of employees are also alumni. The students of today are the staff and faculty of tomorrow. We hereby call on all students, alumni, staff and faculty, to unite in solidarity against the corrupt governance of the President and the Board of Trustees, to continue the process to reclaim The Cooper Union and to defend its mission. The occupation by The Students for a Free Cooper Union is one of several recent eruptions of student resistance that we hope will ignite a broader movement against the commodification of education, and towards the construction of a better world for students, workers, and all of society.
-Arts & Labor
Funny, there was a time, oh so long ago, when Cooper Union’s mission was to provide free education: free education to all that is, not merely free education to a select elite. Peter Cooper’s intention was, that anyone was welcome to the lectures and seminars given at the Cooper Union, even and especially the working people of the Lower East Side. (One of the grateful graduates, BTW, was Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor.)
I wonder if those who displayed this banner calling for “Free Education for All,” are aware of how patronizing and insulting it is to the neighborhood and people they continue to deprive of their rights.
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