December 2013 Alumni Trustee Update

Kevin Slavin A'95, new Alumni Trustee

On the December 11, 2013 Board Meeting

Take 2 minutes to read the report.

I can add a bit of color commentary, and I'm saying all this quite personally as Kevin Slavin:

I believe that having Richard Lincer as Chairman will make an enormous difference in the overall sensibility of the board. I was deeply impressed by how he ran the meeting and his ability to negotiate oppositional points of view.

Just to say it again, Devora Najjar is a rock star. Or whatever we have these days instead of rock stars.

You'll see that there are 5 new trustees. Not all of them spoke up (which is fine, it was their first meeting!) but Eric Hirshhorn was quite vocal. I was impressed by his questions and overall sensibilities. If you meet him, you'll see why.

There are some trustees who are there because they are accomplished in their fields, care about the institution, and bring relevant knowledge to the table. Others are all those things, but also graduated Cooper. I noticed, overall, that there's a difference between them, relative to their positions around tuition. It's obvious when you think about it, but I only realized it through the discussion everyone had. And obviously, it's not 100% true, it's just a general trend I noticed.

The Working Group presentation wasn't just presented, it was also questioned and interrogated some. This was mostly a very productive conversation. Obviously, not everyone supports the assumptions within it, and not everyone agrees on the relative levels of risk in going with one direction over the other.

Ultimately, this is the question: what is the relative risk of each path? There being different types of risk. Financial risk is no bullshit, but nor is the risk of losing the very meaning of the institution.

At one point, an argument was made by one person in favor of tuition because "there could be no downside risk" in the decisions made now. I don't think that tuition lacks considerable downside risk, and it was clear that I was not the only person in the room to think that.

There are those who could critique the lack of immediate decisiveness over which path to take. But as far as I know, this was the first chance to really review and discuss a non-tuition plan. That takes time to digest.

The Code of Conduct discussion, as noted in the report, was pretty good, in my mind due mostly to a very articulate set of points from Devora. I was personally pleased with where that discussion ended up, and I was very upset by how it had been rolled out originally.

One thing not reflected in the notes but not secret either is that there was discussion over how the number of applications for Early Decision are down from last year, quite considerably. I had also heard the numbers from some of you, but the same numbers were presented to the table.

Other things were indeed discussed, but nothing that I think is super substantive. Some very disagreeable statements were made by three or four people there, things that I felt were far from both the reality on the ground, as well as the principles that Cooper aspires to. But those people are in a very small minority and I don't feel that their statements were given disproportionate weight. Overall, the room was filled with a bunch of people trying to figure out how to solve a wicked problem.

There's one other thing I'll add, which was that there was a few thoughtful and important comments from John, from the Huron Group. They have analyzed Cooper's finances quite thoroughly. He speaks with real authority not just on Cooper's numbers, but on the overall field.

These numbers aren't secret: Cooper has around 230MM in debt/liability and only around 80-100MM in assets. This was described as "the worst ratio of any institution in the country."

Whether we go with tuition, or not, Cooper is going to need a bridge loan (you can see in the last page of the WG report there's shortfalls either way). In principle, the WG plan is a smaller shortfall, if it works out exactly as planned.

Either way, the common-sense warning that came with these numbers is that any bank that's going to lend another 30 - 50MM is going to want to want to see new revenue streams. If I were a bank, I would.

This is not good news, and it's not even news, just an interpretation of long-standing facts. But no matter where you stand, on whatever side of whatever line, that's a grim reality.

©2011 The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art