Student Barricade at Cooper Union Ends

young student yelling through loudspeaker
Eleven art students barricaded themselves in the Peter Cooper Suite at Cooper Union College in New York on Dec. 3.

The students, members of a group called Free Cooper Union, intended to remain there until their demands were met, which pertained to the college’s plan to change its tuition policy that could lead to the necessity for student loans.

At Cooper Union, all students attend free-of-charge due to a 110-year history of offering full scholarships. In April, the college administration announced it would charge graduate students tuition. A leaked document from the Undergraduate Tuition Committee (with the support of college President Jamshed Bharucha) announced it would begin charging undergraduate students tuition for at least some college programs. This prompted the creation of Free Cooper Union.

In a press release from the college President, it was revealed that the blockading students had access to food, water, and restroom facilities.

On Dec. 5, two days after the occupation began, student protesters interrupted a meeting of the Board of Trustees. Despite the actions of Free Cooper Union, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously in support of President Jamshed Bharucha that same day.

While protesters were unafraid of showing their emotions on campus at Cooper Union, the Administration did not deploy campus crowd control police to break up student activities. The Administration claimed it was committed to remaining in a civil process that would resolve critical issues relating to the college’s future and survival.

When the President attended a short-notice meeting with protesters, they fled despite having arranged the event.

The college Administration also claimed it would continue to explore and evaluate a wide range of financial options without prejudging any of them. It admitted that a Revenue Task Force, consisting of faculty, elected students, staff and alumni had proposed creating fee-based master’s and summer programs.

According to the group’s facebook page, the barricade ended on the morning of Dec. 11. All 11 students exited the building in good health after a week of occupation. The group still intends to raise public awareness about their college’s plans to charge students tuition for the first time in its 110-year history while also bringing attention to the crisis of student loan debt. Charging tuition for the first time in 110 years could mark the first anniversary of Cooper Union students borrowing student loans.

The group’s facebook reads that “The occupation may have concluded, but the movement to keep Cooper tuition-free has not.”

Free Cooper Union’s website has already gathered $449,458 from 581 pledges who have committed to financially supporting the college’s tuition-free model, which does not require attendees to borrow student loans.