“Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.”
Following his stint in the US Army in WW II, Tom Wesselmann left his home in Ohio to attend the Copper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in New York City. Patterned after the École Polytechnique in Paris, Cooper Union was founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper to offer a free education to students in the sciences and the fine arts. Tom Wesselmann, one of Cooper Union’s most distinguished graduates, passed away in 2009 leaving a legacy of modern art on the level of Willem de Koenig amongst others.
Thousands of students have received a free education thanks to Cooper Union’s endowment. In 2008 the endowment was valued at $710 million; by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, however, the endowment had dropped to $666 million. How did this happen? Poor fiduciary governance. Without a clear investment policy based on fiduciary best practices, the Board of Cooper Union over allocated money to hedge funds and other exotic instruments, losing millions when hedge funds fell out of favor. For the first time in its 159-year history, Cooper Union will be charging tuition.
Tom Wesselmann might not have become one of America’s premier modern artists had it not been for the foresight and generosity of Mr. Cooper and his family. How many other great artists and scientists of limited financial means will we not see because of inadequate fiduciary governance policies in our schools and colleges?