MANHATTAN (CN) - Cooper Union, which hosted the speech accredited for propelling Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, is violating its promise of free tuition by charging students for admission, The Committee to Save Cooper Union claims in court.
The committee sued the Board of Trustees of the Cooper Union in New York County Supreme Court. It wants the court to block the arts college's plan to charge tuition next year, and asked for an investigation of how the board handled finances.
The committee - comprised of faculty, students and alumni - filed the lawsuit a year after the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art announced plans to charge tuition, dismantling a cornerstone of the school's no-tuition policy.
Peter Cooper, an inventor, industrialist and philanthropist who made his fortune from real estate, iron and steel, railroads and telecommunication, founded the school in 1859 with a commitment to free education that was written in the school's deed of trust and charter.
"With the cornerstone of free tuition, the Cooper Union fulfilled Peter Cooper's vision for 155 years - until now," the lawsuit states.
The board of trustees voted in April 2013 to charge tuition for the upcoming year: $19,500 to students entering in the fall of 2014.
The board invoked "economic necessity as a defense" for the tuition policy change. The committee says that defense is "misleading" because "the school could have survived without charging tuition."
Trustees rejected two plans to solve the budget shortfall without imposing tuition, according to the 39-page complaint.
Among its many charges, the committee claims that trustees built an "extravagant new academic building that the school could not afford," then "compounded the impact of this mistake by squandering the endowment through investments in risky hedge funds, questionable real estate transactions and improvident increase in debt."
"Moreover, once it decided to charge tuition, the board not only failed to respond to the many legitimate questions raised by the public, it embarked on a series of divisive, destructive and costly actions which have seriously tarnished The Cooper Union's image," the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs are represented by Richard Emery, with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.
Lincoln delivered his Cooper Union address on Fen. 27, 1860. In it, he opposed slavery in the rapidly expanding Western territories. Many historians claim the speech helped make Lincoln president.