EAST VILLAGE — Following the recent announcement to charge tuition for the first time at the cash-strapped Cooper Union, more than 50 of its students on Wednesday staged a sit-in at the office of the university's president demanding his resignation.
After months of debate and protests from some of Cooper Union's students, staff and alumni, the school announced weeks ago that it would begin charging this September's incoming students. Those involved in the "sit-in" of school president Jamshed Bharucha's office in the Foundation Building near Astor Place say they no longer recognize his presidency and will refuse to leave unless steps are taken towards his resignation.
"As it stands we have a secure and circulating occupation of the space," said senior art student at the school and protestor Joe Riley, 22. "We are willing to stay here."
In a phone interview from Bharucha’s office, Riley said the students walked into the office at about 10:50 a.m. Wednesday morning.
While the students believed Bharucha's schedule put him in the office at the time, the president was absent so the students were unable to read him a statement of no confidence they had prepared, Riley said.
"But a sit-in was always part of the plan," added Riley, who was also involved in another occupation where students locked themselves in the school's clock tower last December for several days protesting talks of charging tuition.
Students have been allowed to come and go from the office, and Riley said a rotation of students will continue around the clock until their demands are met — or until May 16 the last day of spring semester.
"This is a peaceful non-violent action and there are meetings going on between deans and students right now," said Claire McCarthy, the school's spokeswoman.
At the end of April, Cooper Union announced it could not longer afford to foot the tuition bills for its entire student body, closing a year-and-a-half-long debate about how to balance its economic woes against the school's core mission to provide a top-notch higher education to talented students, no matter the cost.
The entering class of 2014 will be offered half scholarships to enroll in its prestigious program, putting the price of attendance at just under $20,000 a year, the school announced.
Cooper Union — named after founder and industrialist Peter Cooper — was established in 1859 as a school for low-income students, offering access to the higher education necessary to participate in shaping public life. Since then, the promise of free education has been as central to the school’s identity as its rigorous programs in architecture, engineering, and the arts.