"Start Spreading the News, I’m Leaving Today..."

Madison Avenue in New York City (Wikimedia Commons - Leif Knutsen).
Stanford University, I’d like to introduce you to New York City.

President John Hennessy opened today’s Faculty Senate Meeting with a thrilling announcement: Stanford has been chosen to potentially build a campus in New York City.  We are currently in a competition against 16  other schools for a coveted block or two in one of the finest cities in the U.S. (not that I don’t enjoy my share of yuppie/nouveau riche/west egg-like suburbia that is Palo Alto).

(On a side note: if Stanford really wants a building in NYC why don’t we just talk to NYU’s president John Sexton who, along with Columbia University, has effectively bought most of Manhattan’s realty?  Screw this “may the best win” thing, let’s just buy our way to fame, it’s working for NYU.)

Original topic to be resumed now.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation is looking to develop research and graduate teaching in NYC and Stanford envisions an initial campus of 25 faculty, 125 PhD students and 250 students seeking a master’s degree.  The campus would be primarily focused on engineering, business, and information technology; but Hennessy sees expansion into fields such as urban studies and banking and ethics.  He pointed out that the west coast is missing urban areas such as Chicago and NYC, and that we could both benefit from and add to a context so different from our own.  I’d like to additionally point out that east (and west, and middle, and upper, and lower) coast bankers seem to lack a fair share of ethics, and that maybe they could benefit from some courses at our NYC campus.

Why are we excited about this?  Apart from the fact that NYC is easily the most socially, culturally and historically vibrant city in the U.S., Hennessy is convinced that all universities will move towards multiple campuses – the point is to get there first.  In the Stanford tradition, we wear flip flops and call our professors by their first name, but let’s not kid ourselves, we want the world to know we’re the best.  This sentiment is not lost on John.

And so Stanford will finally be a part of it: New York, New York!   A question comes to my mind immediately: What shall be of the Stanford identity?

In case you’re unclear on this, New York is a little different from Stanford.  Yet the Stanford “feel”, the farm, the bubble, the sunshine and large expanses, the sprawling dorms and grassy fields, the lake with no water and the hill with a dish on top of it all contribute to a community which prides itself on being socially laid back, academically driven, and absurdly optimistic.  Stanford’s identity is a series of stigmas and stereotypes, that whether we like/believe them or not, have shaped the University since its inception.

Who will we be once a part of us is in New York City?  Will we start smoking a lot more?  Will we see a surge in gallery openings on El Camino?  Will we lead glamorous lives like Serena Van Der Whatever on Gossip Girl?  Will we finally stop wearing pajamas in public?

Silliness aside, Stanford will surely find a way to remain at the forefront of academics, and an NYC campus may be the way to do so.  I leave you with these questions to which I have no answer: Will we become even more relevant in the context of a global city such as NYC?  Do the research resources in NYC warrant this leap?  What will a university look like once it has five autonomous campuses around the world – does autonomy at some point imply disunity and does this matter?

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