A major battle over the future of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art appears to be coming to an end, according to statements released on Tuesday by the prestigious Manhattan college’s Board of Trustees and a coalition of professors, alumni, and students who sued in 2014 to block the board’s plan to start charging undergraduate tuition.
Those groups and the office of the attorney general of New York State, which began investigating the board’s handling of the institution’s finances after the lawsuit was filed, said they had reached agreement on a consent decree to settle the case. The document, signed by all three parties, was to be filed in a state court on Wednesday.
The attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, who brokered the agreement, said in a statement quoted by The Wall Street Journal, “We are uniting to preserve the Cooper Union as a national treasure.”
Under the consent decree, which requires court approval to go into effect, tuition would remain in place for now, but the board would install an independent monitor and form a committee to explore ways for the college to return to its previous free model as soon as possible.
The coalition that filed the lawsuit, called the Committee to Save Cooper Union, said that, along with the consent decree, Mr. Schneiderman would file a “cy pres” petition describing his office’s investigation and alleging “many missteps” by the board and other Cooper Union leaders, including the president who stepped down in June, Jamshed Bharucha. That document, according to the committee, states that Cooper Union “paid a steep price, including, at least temporarily, its free-tuition tradition, as a result of shortcomings in its oversight and management functions over the past decade.”
The trustees’ statement says that the board neither accepts nor agrees with the factual findings in Mr. Schneiderman’s petition, but believes it is “in the college’s best interest to approve the consent agreement and direct full and collaborative attention to preserving the college for future generations of students.”
Mr. Bharucha, in comments to The Wall Street Journal, rejected Mr. Schneiderman’s criticism of his administration’s efforts to head off financial problems as secretive, shortsighted, and based on overly optimistic assumptions. The board’s decision, in April 2013, to charge tuition, Mr. Bharucha said, followed “almost two years of analysis of options and risks.” He also said that he had been “brutally honest with constituents about the financial mess I had inherited” and that he had “invited all constituents to attend information sessions ad nauseam at which financial information was laid bare.”
The court is expected to approve the settlement agreement in a decision that could come in about two weeks.