Are We Sheep?

If you haven’t followed the Cooper Union story over the years, you have missed out on an extremely crazy institution’s story. I sat next to Laura Sparks, the President of Cooper Union, at a dinner the other night. She is intelligent, charming, and thoughtful with an incredible aura. She also gets shit done. The school is lucky to have her.

Cooper Union has been a tuition-free institution since its inception in 1859.  A gem in NYC’s education landscape. A small boutique college with strong architecture, science, and art curriculums.  Peter Cooper, an industrialist, established (Cooper Union) to provide education with an exceptional standard of quality “equal to the best,” The Cooper Union was also founded on the fundamental belief that education should be accessible to all members of society without regard to gender, race, religion or economic status. A brilliant, thoughtful diverse student body has always made up the school. Then, Mark Epstein, a new chair, decides to build a ridiculous-looking building and change the school, tossing tuition-free out the window and start having students pay for attending the school.

The excellent news is that Laura is bringing the school back to where it began, tuition-free. What is fascinating is that the board let it happen. Of course until it didn’t, but why did that happen?

Then look to Trump.  The entire Republican party knows he is a thug who led them to venture into illegal ongoings, but nobody stopped it.  He also lost running for a section term, got impeached twice, and left questionable financial dealings in his wake. Yet, from everything we are finding out about January 6th, most of the Republican party got on board with Trump. Why?

The world seems to know that the Russian army is weak, but we stand back watching as they invade Ukraine even though it is awful, insane, disturbing, and heartbreaking.

I have heard some terrible things happening on the subway. A kid is getting held with a knife while they steal his phone, cut his jacket, and the entire train just sits there. Fear yes, but five 17-year-old kids with a knife and an entire subway of people?

If a reliable company has proven they have product-market fit, it is ok to shake the tree and bring in new leadership. When VCs realize the founder should move into another role, the board has an insanely hard time doing the deed.  They hem and haw and fear the team will leave, so better to have a dysfunctional company. Generally, they eventually make a shift, sometimes too late. After the change is finally completed, the entire company has a sigh of relief, and the team stays. 

There are so many different stories that point to the question I asked in the title.  Are most of us sheep? Or how come we are sheep?  Is it human nature that most follow suit regardless of being illegal, morally wrong, and just all-around reprehensible, yet we all wait? Is change that scary? Is it easier to stay the course?

Perhaps getting older and looking at history repeating itself makes me wonder about the sheep.