Will They or Won’t They?

Stanford is moving to New York and bringing with it some Silicon Valley start-up magic.

Well, not quite yet.  However President Hennessy, *The New York Times, *and a number of other publications, claim that Stanford is a frontrunner for the bid to build a new engineering campus in the Big Apple – and let’s be honest, nobody can beat us.

Except Columbia, NYU, Carnegie Mellon, and a coalition formed by Cornell and Technion Israel Institute of Technology.  Other than that we should be fine.

However difficult the feat may be, Stanford in New York City would prove to be the biggest and most ambitious leap made by the University in recent history. We would not only be leaping across a continent, but indeed into a whole new physical and psychological setting (not to mention historical, political, economic, etc). And for once our students wouldn’t be moving to the City to intern for Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan, so that’s nice too.

But more importantly, we’d see Stanford using its penchant for innovation and entrepreneurship to tackle the fundamental problems posed by an urban setting such as NYC. Programs would range from sustainable urban planning, to financial math and engineering, and would most likely expand to make use of NYC’s artistic and cultural resources (of which Palo Alto, alas, is truly lacking).

Thus Eastward-ho! We trek back to the land from whence Jane and Leland came, and we hope that despite doing so, Stanford will remain Stanford.

There are, however, a few technical issues to be resolved.  The campus will cost an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion, take years to establish a reputation, and will require quite a lot of attention, especially in its initial phases.

President Hennessy claims the professors filling the new positions will undergo the same hiring process as those applying to the “main campus” thus insuring the continued tradition of academic excellence. It shouldn’t be a problem finding professors to fill these new jobs – in fact, the Stanford name plus New York City’s everything is an unbeatable combination.

In a time when universities are closing departments, actively shying away from offering tenured positions and lowering professor’s salaries, Stanford’s expansion will no doubt attract the brightest young academics looking for a prestigious job in an even more impressive city.

Of the top-contenders for the bid, Stanford has the largest endowment at over $16.5 billion, and has proved to be incredibly adept at raising funds with more than $2 billion raised in the three years ending in mid-2010.  No other American university came close to this figure.

But one issue remains – is Stanford in New York too great a risk for Stanford in Palo Alto?  Stanford has already decided to partner with City College of New York, and has leased 20,000 square feet of their space to create a joint-degree program.  The space would also work as an interim facility until the new campus opens on Roosevelt Island in 2016.

A relationship with New York City could well be forged through this partnership – but that would be too easy, and even too mundane. City College is a good starting point, but for Stanford to be Stanford it needs to directly engage with the city on its own terms.  That means bringing the Stanford brand to New York via the proposed campus on Roosevelt Island.

This tiny strip of land in the East River (connected to Manhattan and Queens in less than three minutes by subway) allows Stanford to work undisturbed while still remaining in tune with the financial and cultural epicenter of the United States.

In its partial move to the East Coast, Stanford hopes to bring with it the seeds of a new Silicon Valley – a phenomenon which NYC would love to capitalize upon.  The challenge will be to emerge as a powerful leader in an already crowded landscape.

If all goes well, a formidable allegiance between two very dissimilar coasts will be created.  What was once irreconcilable will unite to form an exciting prospect for the future of Stanford’s innovation and global influence.

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