By Alan Neuhauser and Wil Cruz
EAST VILLAGE — A one-man protest against Cooper Union's decision to start charging graduate students tuition turned into a hour-long standoff with cops Wednesday when the dissenter scaled the Peter Cooper statue.
The protester — whom friends identified as Jesse Kreuzer, a recent graduate of Cooper Union — climbed the famed statue on East 7th Street and Cooper Square in defiance of the school's decision to charge students for its graduate programs next year.
"I'm doing this because I appreciate the education I got and what I got it for," said the protester, who moonwalked and made phone calls atop the statue.
Some 200 gawkers cheered on the man, who was carrying a sign that read: "No tuition, it's our mission!"
Kreuzer began climbing the statue around 5:30 p.m. but "his sign kept falling," said Santiago Gomez, a junior at Baruch College who was walking by at the time.
"It takes a lot of b---s to get up there," Gomez added. "But they're going to raise tuition anyway."
"Students can't afford loans. We can protest, but the big guys already decided."
Cops initially tried to extend a ladder up to the protester, but it didn't reach. So they called for a bucket truck and eventually talked the man down from the statue at 6:45 p.m.
He was taken into custody, though it was not immediately clear if he had been charged.
The elite school announced Tuesday that it will begin charging graduate students tuition. It will not, however, charge undergraduate students to go to school.
"Weighing all the alternatives, I am convinced that some fee-based programs are necessary for Cooper Union's solvency, and that this framework gives us the most optimistic way forward," said Jamshed Bharucha, the university's president on the school's web site.
"Because we have a short runway to get these programs going, failing to act now will put the institution in peril."
Still, the so-called hybrid model still hurts students, protesters said.
"Cooper Union is free, but they're threatening to change that...It makes a huge difference in terms of debt," said Kanchan Richardson, a Cooper Union art major. "It affects people's lives. Education is invaluable and beyond a business model."