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Late 20th Century (1969-2000)

Introduction | John F. White Presidency (1969-1980) | Bill N. Lacy Presidency (1980-1987) | John Jay Iselin Presidency (1988-2000)


John F. White Presidency (1969-1980)

Selected Chronology during the John F. White Presidency

  • 1970: Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. becomes Chairman of the Board of Trustees
  • 1971: Clarence Michalis becomes Chairman of the Board of Trustees
  • Selected History during the John F. White Presidency

    Prior to 1972 the teaching staff of Cooper Union was organized in departments chaired by faculty members. By action of the trustees that year, taken without faculty vote or other faculty approval, the departments were consolidated into larger divisions, with division heads appointed by the president. The administration thereafter rejected a faculty recommendation that the departmental structure be restored and rejected a separate faculty recommendation that division heads be elected by faculty members. Among other changes brought about by the elimination of the departmental structure was a decrease in faculty authority over the academically related activities of nonteaching staff such as laboratory assistants and secretaries. In addition to replacing the departmental structure with a divisional structure, the trustees in 1972 also created new degrees in mathematics and science. They also created and filled the position of provost. The faculties did not have an opportunity to vote on or otherwise approve or disapprove these changes.

    In 1973 the provost, Kaplan, issued a report recommending increasing class size, increasing the student-faculty ratio, increasing teaching loads, severely limiting grants of tenure, reducing the number of full-time faculty through attrition, and increasing the proportion of adjunct faculty. While the Senate was considering these proposals, they were implemented without faculty approval and over strong faculty opposition. When members of the Senate confronted the provost with the fact that the proposals were being implemented while still under Senate consideration, the provost responded to the effect that the Senate could be most useful by simply approving the proposals. In accord with the provost's recommendation, then president White began rejecting many tenure recommendations even where a candidate had received unanimous faculty support. The decisions denying tenure were made largely for financial reasons, ignoring the exclusively academic criteria for the granting of tenure set forth in the faculty policy manual.

    In 1975 the trustees again restructured the institution without faculty participation and over strong faculty opposition. The 1975 reorganization eliminated the divisions and the division head positions, leaving the schools the primary structural academic units. It divided what had been the School of Art and Architecture into two separate schools. It established a new "Faculty of Liberal Arts and Science" (LAS) entirely outside of the degree-granting schools, placing nearly half the faculty members (some from Art and Architecture and some from Engineering) in the new group. The LA&S faculty members were thereby disenfranchised, no longer having a vote on the faculty of any degreegranting school, or authority to participate in its governance committees. (No governance was established for the LA&S faculty.) Provost Kaplan was designated acting dean of the new faculty. Also in the 1975 restructuring, the trustees eliminated the curricula leading to degrees in mathematics, physics, and distributive science, and eliminated physical education as a regular part of the curriculum. As a result, a number of tenured faculty members were permanently laid off.

    Faculty opposition to the changes brought about in 1975 was widespread and sustained, particularly with respect to the creation of the LA&S faculty and the elimination of the degree programs. During a senate meeting in which strong criticism of the 1975 changes and the way in which they were implemented was voiced, White informed the Senate that he was neither required to consult with the Senate nor to accept its advice. The Senate then voted to cease meeting because it was a group without any power. It remained defunct for approximately 3 years, until after the collective-bargaining agreement was entered into. During the same period, the administration successfully resisted an attempt by the tenured faculty members who had been laid off to gain a hearing before the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee.

    Also following the 1975 reogranization, the dean of the School of Engineering, without faculty consideration, promulgated an amended governance for that school. The dean's governance eliminated the administrative committee, delegating all administrative functions to the dean. It also created a new interim curriculum committee chaired by the dean. These amendments apparently remained in effect for approximately 4 years until newly revised governances were issued after the bargaining agreement was entered into.

    A final limitation on the exercise of faculty authority in academic matters is the ability of administrators in key positions to prevent faculty groups from meeting. The Respondent's president has sole authority to call joint faculty meetings. Following a 1975 joint faculty meeting in which a motion was made to censure President White for allegedly interfering with the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, White called no more faculty meetings for the remaining 4 years of his presidency. Similarly, the dean of the Architecture school prevented its administrative committee from meeting for a period of 4 years from 1977 to 1981 by failing to call any meetings. During that time the administrative committee's function in reviewing proposed curriculum changes was simply bypassed.

    The faculty has virtually no role in the areas of budget and facilities. Major decisions to sell and renovate facilities and to relocate personnel and activities within them have been made without faculty input or over faculty opposition. Similarly, faculty office space is assigned by the administration and, at least in the Engineering school; even faculty access to ordinary office supplies is restricted. Faculty members have no input into the appointment, retention, or employment conditions of nonteaching staff such as laboratory assistants, shop assistants, library personnel, and secretaries. In regard to the appointment of teaching staff, although the governances call for a consultative faculty role, such a role has frequently been bypassed. Similarly, although faculty members have regularly been consulted on tenure decisions, their recommendations have frequently been reversed.

    Faculty members have no role in granting sabbatical leaves. In the selection of deans, the faculty role called for in the governances has sometimes been ignored. In the selection of a president to take White's place in 1979, the procedure for faculty input called for in the governance was not followed. Other administrative positions have been created and filled without faculty input.

    Decision, Dotson, Hunter, Dennis, AFL-CIO Case 2-CA-17483, February 5, 1985.

    Bill N. Lacy Presidency (1980-1987)

    Selected Chronology during the Bill N. Lacy Presidency

  • 1986: George A. Fox becomes Chairman of the Board of Trustees
  • 1988: Alan C. Green becomes Acting President

    Selected History during the Bill N. Lacy Presidency

    John Jay Iselin Presidency (1988-2000)

    Selected Chronology during the John Jay Iselin Presidency

  • 1995: Robert A. Bernhard becomes Chairman of the Board of Trustees
  • Selected History during the John Jay Iselin Presidency


    Links to on-line sources and listings of other sources can be found on the homepage.


    CY = Calendar Year; AY = Academic Year = July of CY-1 through June of CY; FY = Fiscal Year = CY (AY 1908 and before) = AY (AY 1917 and later)

    The Cooper Union History Project website is currently maintained by Barry Drogin. This page last updated: March 17, 2017.