New York State of Mind

Stanford President John Hennessy and others gave the annual Address to the Academic Council this afternoon (you can see last year’s live blog), which outlined some news about Stanford’s Palo Alto Campus development, but focused in large part on Stanford’s proposal to develop its first full-scale satellite campus outside of California (the Hopkins Marine Center makes a claim to represent a specialized campus in-state). First, regarding Stanford’s overall performance, President Hennessy emphasized the fact that Stanford’s endowment rose by 10 percent in FY2010 due to careful choices made by the school and the excellent performance of the endowment. In addition, in the 4.5 years since the launch of the five-year Stanford Challenge, we’ve raised over $5 billion, surpassing the $4.3 billion goal.

What has Stanford done with all of its fund-raising? Well, for one thing, we can physically see some of the results. Major buildings that have appeared this academic year alone include the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, Lorrey Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, and the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. The Knight Management Center and the new Neukom building in the Law School (replacing Kresge Auditorium) are both slated to be opened this year as well.

Next on the agenda is a new arts district perpendicular to Palm Drive. This begins with the Bing Concert Hall, slated to be open by January 2013, which President Hennessy jokingly called “the Fez.” However it doesn’t end there: a new arts building will be built next to Cantor thanks to a naming gift by former Chair of the Board of Trustees, Bert McMurtry. Finally, the biology building between Gates and Mudd has already received naming gift and will feature state of the art of labs for faculty.

In addition, there are now many more people to populate these buildings: 250 graduate student openings, 50 faculty positions, 5 senior fellows, and 6 directorships. The US News and World Report ranked eight Stanford departments first or tied for first. Three were ranked 2nd, with many more ranked 3rd-5th. By a separate report, every single one of the ranked departments in engineering, physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences were in the top 10. In addition, 85 percent of departments in the humanities were in the top 10, up from 59 percent in 1994.

So, enough about Stanford. Let’s talk the Big Apple.

Reports about Stanford’s application to build a satellite applied science and research campus in New York City first surfaced in February. There have been some in favor and in conversation, I’ve heard some opposed. Stanford was one of 27 universities (18 consortiums) to express interest in a new campus. The idea of a satellite campus is not new, but Stanford actually going for it is. New York offers a few things that have been missing from other opportunities: New York can attract students and faculty of Stanford’s caliber. New York offers a chance to increase East Coast visibility, master multi-site operations, and attract new philanthropic giving in a more supportive environment. Rather than setting up a campus in a different country, with a different language, some 6-8 time zones away, New York offers a chance to have: the same language, country, level of academic freedom, and is only three time zones away.

How would a New York campus look? The key, as President Hennessy and others put it is to ensure that it is fully integrated with the Stanford campus. The students and faculty should be of the same caliber, accepted and recruited by the Palo Alto-based departments – the goal is to maintain unity of all of the departments that might be involved: computer science, electrical engineering, the, and the Graduate School of Business to begin with.

In the first five years, there will be 25 faculty, 150 doctoral, and 300 masters students, with a focus initially on information technology, but with entrepreneurship as another focus. Over the course of developing the program, it might ultimately expand to 100 faculty and 2000 students. Green technology, biomedical sciences, urban studies, and financial mathematics are all possible programs. Programs that allow for visiting undergraduate or graduate students are also a possibility.

The final proposal is due this summer and Stanford would then learn whether it had been successful by the end of the year. If Stanford wins, it would then need to start hiring new faculty and preparing to admit new students, with a planned launch date in 2015 or 2016.

Jim Plummer, dean of the engineering school identified a few key questions that this endeavor must answer to succeed. Do telepresence systems work well enough? Can we handle managing both campuses? Can the entrepreneurial spirit be replicated in New York? The New York campus would start out very small, so original programs need to be contained and have critical mass from the beginning. Developing a contained program in an area of core Stanford competency, such as information technology would work in this way. One of the advantages that New York has is that adjuncts, who are often used for GSB and classes, would be easy to find in NYC. However, to make the New York campus truly be at the same level as our home campus, the ability of technology to deliver real-time classroom experience would need to be amplified.

The chair of the computer science department, Jennifer Widom, offered much more tempered excitement, a stance she reiterated several times. She was excited about the chance to add 10-20 new positions, as such a move would allow more expansions into new areas. However, given Stanford’s strict quality threshold, this might only mean 1-2 faculty per year, which does not seem to mesh with the plan to have as many as 25 faculty in the first year, even given the multiple departments that might be involved. As a result, there would be a strong need to have existing faculty move at least temporarily to New York. There are fewer challenges in attracting students – we can get high quality students without lowering our threshold.

Roosevelt Island, with the Queensboro Bridge crossing over it.
Vice President for Land, Buildings, Real Estate Robert Reidy offered a more detailed view of how a campus in New York might actually look. First, he briefly outlined why Stanford preferred a Roosevelt Island out of four possible sites: Staten Island, Governors Island, Brooklyn Naval Yard, and Roosevelt Island. Staten Island was remote, Governors Island has bad infrastructure, and the Brooklyn site was industrial zoned, but the Roosevelt site worked well, since it was close to both Manhattan (center of NYC) and Queens (place for cheap expansion and start-ups).

Roosevelt Island would have a 10 acre site in close proximity to Manhattan, with the Queensboro Bridge going over it. It has good subway connection and an interesting tram system, but poor car access.

What would the actual island look like? Ultimately, there would be two 20-story housing facilities, one at either end of the campus, as well as academic buildings surrounding a green. The academic facilities might reach eight or so stories in order to capitalize on the space.

When faced with a question about whether this was the best use of Stanford’s resources, President Hennessy stated that the city has indicated it would make a commitment, so we could mobilize extra resources. However, this project cannot not be achieved without significant new fund-raising. If Stanford can’t attract new philanthropic support (such as from New Yorkers and New York-based donors), this expansion cannot occur.

Why New York? New York is the cultural/media capital of the US. We can fuse NY’s “new style” ideas with our strength in new technology.

What makes us different from Oxford and Cambridge, who have never expanded? We’re not as married to a place – technology will make it possible for us to master multi-campus operations. Said President Hennessy, “This is the future. This is the direction we’re going…Within a few months, you will be able to have multi-site video-conferencing on your desktop, on your laptop, on your iPad that is of a quality that would have cost $100,000 ten years ago.” In addition, our peer institutions have already moved to new campuses, so expansion is a clear direction forward.

Ellie Titus ’11, former Stanford Daily editor-in-chief asked about what other, non-financial challenges Stanford might face in setting up this campus, especially political. The direct response was that Stanford needs vested rights before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office in 2013 or else the deal will likely fall through. Stanford has at least received assurances that this will be a merit-based process, not a political boondoggle, so that is why Stanford remains involved.

That’s where we are with our “looking eastward” venture. Should we go through with it? Leave some comments below!

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on The Review’s blog Fiat Lux. You can find the article here.

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