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Lawsuit against Cooper Union comes to an end

The college promises to work toward restoring free tuition

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York has found a way out of legal turmoil after a year of negotiations, heated protests and resignations. The college’s board of trustees entered into an agreement on Wednesday 2 September with the advocacy group Save Cooper Union and the Attorney General of New York, paving the way for a return to its 155-year-old tuition-free policy. The agreement, which must be approved by the New York State Supreme Court, would resolve the lawsuit that Save Cooper Union filed against the school last year.

Under the agreement, Cooper Union will create a committee, known as the “Free Education Committee”, charged with developing a plan to restore the school’s tuition-free model. Meanwhile, the school will add two current students and a group of alumni-elected members to its board of trustees. The attorney general is also due to appoint an independent financial monitor to evaluate the school’s finances.

When the philanthropist Peter Cooper founded the prestigious college of art, design and engineering in 1859, he said that education should be “free as air and water”. But the school’s board voted to begin charging tuition two years ago in the face of mounting financial pressure. In March, the attorney general’s office began investigating the school for financial mismanagement. Its problems stemmed from its decision to take out a $175m loan to build a new facility in the East Village in 2006, the attorney general’s office found.

The Free Education Committee, comprised of students and alumni, is due to present its plan to the board of trustees in January 2018. But free tuition is far from a done deal. A statement from the college notes: “The agreement acknowledges that, in undertaking a good-faith effort to determine the viability of the full-scholarship model, it is uncertain if or when The Cooper Union could return to such a model…Cooper has experienced decades of substantial operating deficits caused by a consistent pattern of cost increases that exceed the growth of its revenues.”