EAST VILLAGE — After seven days, a small group of students from Cooper Union who had locked themselves inside the college in protest of a plan to charge tuition at the traditionally free school ended their "live-in" protest Monday.
Last week, 11 students from the cash-strapped Cooper Union barricaded themselves in the school's Foundation Building and pledged to remain there until Cooper Union's administration promised to scrap plans to charge tuition and increase transparency to the student body.
Although the school has officially met none of their demands, protesters claimed the live-in sparked enough media coverage and galvanized the rest of Cooper Union's student body to continue the battle out in the open.
"It was just one piece of a larger strategy,” said live-in protester Casey Gollan, a 21-year-old senior in the School of Art. "People felt like it was catalyzing to go up here," Gollan said, referring to the school's clock tower, where the live-in occurred.
The protesters, which are part of the organizing body "Students for a Free Cooper Union," made the decision to return from their stakeout above Cooper Square after hundreds of students and supporters attended a Saturday rally, according to Gollan.
“We came to realize that there is so much going on, we could plug into it,” said another live-in protester Joe Riley, 22, a junior arts student at the school.
Peter Cooper founded the school, which offers art, architecture and engineering degrees for both graduate and undergraduate students, in 1859, with the mission of a free education.
Before 1902, when a large endowment was received, students who could pay for their tuition did, Cooper Union's press office said. After the endowment, all students were admitted with a full scholarship.
Riley said no exact date had been set for the organizers' next protest, but he mentioned that students anticipated attending the school’s traditionally private board meeting in January.
"There are things coming, I promise,” he said, adding that a petition was already being passed around among the student body demanding official and permanent representation on the school's board.
The school did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the live-in protesters came out, and it has yet to specify if any disciplinary action will be levied against the protesters.
The live-in protesters began removing their barricade on Sunday.
When the doors opened, they were met by some of the school's faculty in a gesture of support, they said.
"When I was a kid I didn't have access to education," said Cooper Union graphic design teacher Mike Essl, who graduated from the school in 1996. "I applied [to Cooper Union] on a whim and literally a prayer, and that is how I do what I do today."
He helped escort the live-in students from the clock tower, where they had camped out with supplies and sleeping bags.
"They have my thanks and gratitude," said Essl.
The students were also met by some of their peers who had been supporting the live-in protesters from the ground, including by storming into the school's trustee meeting last Wednesday.
Upon reaching ground level, Riley said he was happy the live-in protest was both a success and over.
"I'm going to take a shower," he said, "and then I am going to get back to my [school] work."