Wednesday evening, Jamshed Bharucha, the president of Cooper Union, announced his resignation in a statement with the subject line “Presidential Transition.” The news comes during a state probe into the school’s finances by the attorney general, and shortly after five members of the school’s board of trustees resigned this week, citing a “lack of support” for the leadership of the board, according to internal letters that leaked to the press. Among the five trustees was Mark Epstein, who was crucial in the school’s decision to charge tuition for the first time in its history, during Bharucha’s tenure.
Starting in the fall, Bharucha will serve as a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, according to his letter, which was sent out to faculty, staff, and alumni. The letter continues with a rationalization of the school’s newly implemented tuition:
It has been an honor to serve as the 12th President of Cooper Union these past four years. 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.
The class completing its freshman year was the first to be admitted under the 2013 Financial Sustainability Plan, and the class just admitted will be the second. These two classes uphold Cooper’s unparalleled standard of excellence. With need-based financial aid, we have also been able to increase access to those who can least afford it, as shown by an increase in the proportion of students eligible for Federal Pell Grants.
In an interview with Mike Vilensky of The Wall Street Journal, Epstein called the leadership change a “terrible move,” adding, “The board got over this tuition hurdle, which was a necessary change, and Jamshed was the right person to lead the school going forward.”
The remaining members of the board of trustees released the following statement:
The Board of Trustees is grateful to Jamshed Bharucha for his service as the 12th President of Cooper Union.
The financial exigencies with which he was confronted upon his arrival were not of his making and he deserves credit for sounding the alarm about the need to take urgent action to ensure Cooper Union’s long-term financial sustainability.
We wish President Bharucha all the best in his future endeavors, and have agreed to name him President Emeritus effective July 1, 2015.
The school’s vice president for finance and administration, William Mea, will take over as interim president beginning July 1, according to an email from Cooper’s vice president for communications. The university will create a formal presidential search committee in the fall.
UPDATE, 06/11/2015, 10:35 a.m.:
The Committee to Save Cooper Union, which formed after the announcement that Cooper would begin charging tuition, released the following statement:
The Committee to Save Cooper Union welcomes the news of President Jamshed Bharucha’s resignation as President of Cooper Union. Just over a year ago, Save Cooper Union was formed in response to the announcement by President Bharucha (in April 2013) that The Cooper Union would begin charging undergraduates tuition. Save Cooper Union has said many times before that a change in administration would be helpful to setting the school on the right course. President Bharucha had an opportunity to maintain founder Peter Cooper’s 150-year legacy and to support a storied institution that had survived many economic crises in the past. Instead, he hastily raced towards a tuition policy and a corporatization of the school – decisions made in the face of massive objections from students, alumni and faculty.
Save Cooper Union has worked hard over the course of the last year to bring increased transparency and accountability to The Cooper Union and we are pleased that these issues have become part of a larger public discussion. We hope that this resignation marks the beginning of a new chapter for Cooper Union – one that honors Peter Cooper’s mission of free tuition, transparency and fiscal conservatism that has benefited thousands of students over the years.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Save Cooper Union from the Committee to Save Cooper Union, which believes the organization it was formed against “hold[s] extreme positions and misrepresent[s] themselves as reflecting a majority view within the community,” according to their mission statement, posted the following on their web site:
For decades, Cooper Union trustees kicked an inevitable financial problem down the road, selling assets rather than crafting and committing to a sustainable financial plan. Two courageous leaders – President Bharucha and Dean Dahlberg – were hired at the 11th hour and received a mandate from the board to fix our finances. Bharucha and Dahlberg attacked this problem with astounding courage and energy – ensuring that despite the imposition of a modest tuition, Cooper Union was more accessible than it had been in recent years for those who could least afford it. Faced with a small but vocal community of belligerent protestors who refused to do the math, and an overzealous attorney general, the board lost its nerve and its way. We have lost our best and brightest leaders. As one trustee noted in his letter of resignation to the Board yesterday, “if the school fails in the future, it will not be due to the change in the scholarship policy (a major part of the sustainability plan) as some will claim. It will be due to the organized opposition to it.” To that we would like to add, “it will also be due to cowardice.”