Cooper Union president resigning amid probe of its finances

AP News
Posted: Jun 10, 2015 10:08 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The president of The Cooper Union college announced his resignation on Wednesday amid infighting and a probe by the state attorney general into the management of its finances.

Jamshed Bharucha said he will leave at the end of June after four years as president of the Manhattan college and will serve as a visiting scholar at Harvard University in the Graduate School of Education.

"The focus of my presidency has been to secure Cooper's finances for generations of deserving students in the future, while preserving excellence and increasing socio-economic access," Bharucha said in an email to faculty members.

The Board of Trustees said Cooper's vice president for finance and administration, William Mea, will assume interim leadership responsibilities on July 1. The board said it will form a presidential search committee of faculty members, students and alumni in the fall.

The resignation announcement came a day after five trustees on the 23-person Cooper board, including World Trade Center redevelopment architect Daniel Libeskind, resigned in unison.

Board chairman Richard Lincer said he regretted the trustees' resignations.

"Despite any differences of opinion, all members of the board, including those who recently resigned, have been committed to the best interests of Cooper's students and of the institution going forward," he said.

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was founded in 1859 by industrialist Peter Cooper to give talented young people a good education "open and free to all," and discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or sex was prohibited. Its rich history rivals the traditions of better-known colleges with sprawling campuses and football teams: Abraham Lincoln gave his "right makes might" anti-slavery speech at Cooper in 1860, Thomas Edison took classes there, the NAACP held its first public meeting there in 1909 and President Barack Obama spoke there in 2010.

The departures come at a tense time for the college, which sparked a firestorm and a lawsuit when it started charging tuition last year for the first time in more than a century.

Bharucha defended his tuition decision. He said that with need-based financial aid the college was able to increase access to those who could least afford it.

The college now awaits results of a probe that could tarnish its reputation as a world-class training ground for engineers, architects and artists.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's investigation includes a look into the management of The Cooper Union's prime asset, the land under the Chrysler Building. Investigators also are questioning a $175 million loan, with the landmark skyscraper as collateral, used by Cooper trustees to finance a new engineering building.

The Cooper Union, with an endowment of $735 million, is not in imminent danger of failing. But a leveling-off of rents from the Chrysler Building in the early 1990s triggered massive budget deficits, a report from Bharucha said.

According to the report, the accumulated deficits from fiscal year 1990 to fiscal year 2012 topped $300 million.

Bharucha said the tuition-free model he inherited when he took over as president in 2011 was unsustainable "without a disruptive intervention."