In Satire, Cooper Union Leases Its Starchitecture to Cover Its Deficit

You’ve got to hand it to those Cooper Union students. They’re great designers — and mischievous. Amid a debate on campus over what to do about the institution’s financial crisis — and whether to start charging tuition at Cooper for the first time in some 110 years — a student has put up his own protest, in a way that only a clever designer could.

A letter from Jamshed Bharucha, Cooper’s president, circulated with a stunning announcement: Cooper would lease its academic building at 41 Cooper Square — the signature building designed by the starchitect Thom Mayne — to the Polytechnic Institute of New York University for  $20 million in annual revenue. The letter went on to say that Cooper would relocate its operations to “one of New York’s neighboring boroughs.” The letter went on to say that Mr. Bharucha would move out of the president’s residence at 21 Stuyvesant Street, known as the Hamilton Fish House, and move into student housing near St. Mark’s Books, allowing the college to raise more revenue by leasing the president’s residence.

Except that there was no such deal, and the letter was not written by Mr. Bharucha but by (presumably) the student behind the hoax. At least one news outlet — called Gothamistfell for it. The news site later admitted it had been “punked,” while a Cooper announcement noted that Gothamist had not contacted the college to check the story.

To be generous, we at The Chronicle were also fooled for about two minutes — until we started poking around the so-called “CU 2015 Relocation” site, which resembled official Cooper media but seemed a little too thin to be real.

Cooper has had a history of floating its free-education on unusual real-estate deals. And, as the parody site points out, there are a number of people at the college who feel that 41 Cooper Square was too lavish for a college in financial straits. But the language in the satirical “letter from the president” was just a little too blunt for a massaged official announcement: “The 41 Cooper Square has been, for the community, a reminder of past ill-planning and fiduciary neglect. We have, and must continue, to live within the means provided to us in order to preserve Peter Cooper’s innovative social mission. We shall not falter in this regard.”

Once Gothamist found out that it had been fooled, it contacted a junior it identified as Alan Lundgard, whose e-mail address was associated with the site. Gothamist quoted Mr. Lundgard saying that he “felt there would be repercussions, and that I was in a unique position absorb them.” Gothamist said that his e-mail account has since been disabled.

Mr. Lundgard said in the article he had been inspired by The Yes Men, a prankster protest group. “The question has become: what do we consider more expendable, a 110-year tradition dedicated to the value of tuition-free, merit-based education, or a three year old trophy building that is partially responsible for the Institution’s current fiscal turmoil?”

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