EAST VILLAGE — Students, staff and alumni from Cooper Union rallied Wednesday to protest the cash-strapped school's decision to delay early admissions amid a battle over whether to begin charging students for the historically free tuition.
The protesters, led by Students for a Free Cooper Union, said the university's decision last week to defer early admissions to the School of Art was the administration's way of punishing the faculty for refusing to support any move to charge students tuition.
"[The] Cooper community — comprised of students, alumni, faculty and allies — has always risen to the opportunity to generate collaborative and creative ideas for cost reduction and revenue generation that does not sacrifice the school’s historic mission statement 'free education to all' admitted students," said Victoria Sobel from Students for a Free Cooper Union.
She said the now-deferred early admissions applicants — who were supposed to learn whether they were admitted to Cooper Union at the beginning of February but will now have to wait until late March — "have gone above and beyond their due diligence" in their applications and the school's administration should be held accountable for the delays.
In a statement, the school's administration said its reason for delaying early admissions is simply a financial one — that a plan needs to be laid out for how the Cooper Union can operate within its budget, which will be determined in March.
In September 2012, the university's president Jamshed Bharucha requested the three schools — the School of Art, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering and the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture — develop plans for how they could generate revenue, according to the statement from the school.
While all three submitted plans, its was only the art school that retracted its plan, "opposing the very principals of generating revenue through tuition from academic programs," according to the statement from Cooper Union and the School of Art.
The university labeled this as "unsustainable" and cannot begin admitting art students for the fall until a viable financing model is determined, likely at a board of trustees meeting in late March, the administration said in the statement.
When asked if this could result in tuition fees for students, Cooper Union spokeswoman Claire McCarthy did not deny the possibility, but she declined to comment on something that was "undecided."
The school, which offers a free education in art, architecture and engineering for both graduate and undergraduate students, was hit hard during the recession, leaving it with a $12 million annual deficit, according to the statement.
At Wednesday's rally outside Cooper Union, former and current students joined some of the early admissions applicants who are still waiting to find out whether they'll be able accepted.
Jillian Dolan, a high school student from Long Island, said she did everything she could to have a perfect application, including participating in Cooper Union's outreach program.
"It is my only [college] application," Dolan said.
Now she has to wait more than a month longer to find out if she is successful, and she doesn't know whether to activate her Plan B: a gap year volunteering abroad before reapplying to Cooper Union for next year.
If the administration does decide to charge students fees after the March meeting, Dolan said she would still want to attend Cooper Union.
"It would mean a lot of debt," she said. "Living in New York City is expensive too."