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August 26, 2014

19th-Century Founder's Words Central to Cooper Union's Tuition Battle

A New York court is attempting to parse the flowery prose of a 19th-century education patron in determining whether the college he established can begin charging undergraduate tuition for the first time in its more than 150 years, The Wall Street Journal writes.

A group of students, faculty, and alumni seeking to block the new fees at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art rest their case on the school's charter and what they claim is the intent of its founder, Peter Cooper, to offer free instruction. Officials at the Manhattan school say its 1859 charter limits that injunction to night courses and that the $19,000-a-year tuition is necessary to keep Cooper Union solvent.

The case is being closely watched by attorneys and scholars nationwide because of Cooper Union's status as one of the country's last free colleges and the questions the case raises about what an institution owes to a long-ago founder as its circumstances change.