If It Ain’t Broke…. Why I Don’t Support the Stanford NYC Campus Proposal

Posted by at 6:56PM

A study in contrasts.

West Coast, best coast.

As a SoCal native and lifelong Californian, to me this phrase sums up not only the Californian lifestyle and culture but also the tremendous advantages of going to school in the beautiful, entrepreneurial West.  Right next to San Francisco and San Jose, smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley (and 45 minutes from the beach!), we have all the resources a pioneering academic institution needs for inspiration, exchange, and advancement.

Why mess with that?  Interestingly, in the past few months, some Stanford administrators have proposed the creation of an additional Stanford campus in New York City.

Granted, there are some valid motivations.  Because “New York dominates the fields of finance, media and fashion, but has underachieved in science and engineering,” Mayor Bloomberg and others have requested that universities submit proposals for new technical graduate programs to be launched in the city (Wall Street Journal).  President Hennessy and others have argued that a Stanford satellite campus could transform New York into a second Silicon Valley.  Per Hennessy, a NYC campus would make Stanford a “world-class model for the multi-campus university” and “increase the university’s visibility on the East Coast and perhaps connect with new sources of philanthropic support.”

Were money, time, and resources no object, this might represent an interesting academic experiment.  However, in my opinion this is an unnecessary venture that is at best an altruistic publicity stunt and at worst an expensive and distracting dilution of the international prestige of our wonderful University.

Stanford letter jackets: so hip during the Renaissance

Call me Machiavelli…

…but what do we stand to gain from a New York campus?  We already have our Silicon Valley, with all of the wonderfully symbiotic relationships with industry that it entails.  Helping New York found its own tech region would be a retrogressive move, retracing steps we’ve already taken and perfected out west.  Indeed, even if our primary motivator were altruism, wouldn’t it be more useful to build on that which is already excellent than to reinvent the wheel as a mere side project?  While I definitely agree with President Hennessy that “we are a university that serves the nation,” I think we’d do both ourselves and the nation the biggest service by continuing and expanding operations from our California campus instead of distracting ourselves from our central aims by starting from scratch in New York.

Some supporters argue that a campus in New York is simply a natural progression from Stanford’s existing campuses in D.C., Monterey, and Hawaii.  Sure, it would be great to have a new campus with access to the cultural, financial, and historical resources of New York.  However, this campus would be fundamentally different from Stanford’s existing American campuses.  This campus would, according to Stanford News, serve as a “campus for applied science research and graduate education on Roosevelt Island.”  Not an undergraduate “abroad” campus.  Not a potential outlet for students in the arts and humanities to explore culture and performance in the Big Apple.  The campus would only serve “students in engineering, computer science and business.”

And because this campus would come into existence in 2015 (according to very aggressive estimates), it wouldn’t benefit current Stanford students.  Devil’s advocate though I may be, I fail to see how this helps today’s Stanford community – the students, faculty, and researchers currently contributing to world-class research.

Why us?

A Cornell student on the homepage wears a "California girl" T-shirt. See, West is best!

Bloomberg’s request for a graduate technical program in NYC was openly addressed to higher education institutions around the world and has garnered 27 proposals including Stanford’s.  Columbia and Cornell, universities significantly more vested in, and thus benefited by, New York, have also submitted proposals.  In this situation, it makes more sense for local organizations to step up their game than have Stanford split its attentions and resources.  Um, doesn’t New York already have universities?  Is it Stanford’s obligation to pick up their slack?  Or, on the flip side of the coin, mightn’t it be fairly arrogant for us to come all the way across the country to effectively say, “hey, you guys can’t seem to get your acts together, but don’t worry, we’ll take it from here.”  I just don’t see how the NY tech problem is Stanford’s issue to resolve.

Bigger fish to fry

Perhaps my main concern with the Stanford campus in New York is the fact that we have more pressing financial concerns on campus.  According to Engineering Dean Jim Plummer, “[the New York campus] will be a very significant financial commitment on the part of the university.”

A 2003 Bing Overseas Studies Seminar in Cape Town. (Photo cred.: Stanford University)

Before we start an entirely new venture, I want to see the reinstatement of programs that have been cut during the recession, like Stanford Overseas Seminars.  I want to make sure our financial aid program continues to ensure that the best and brightest are able to attend Stanford regardless of socioeconomic situation.  According to President Hennessy, “greater need caused by the economy and a reduced endowment to fund [financial aid] costs, led us to triple our fundraising goal for undergraduate financial aid.”  If this is the case, can we afford to start an entirely new campus?

One of Hennessy’s remarks in particular concerned me, when he said that the new campus would involve “distributing people and talent and sharing courses and research activities.”  To me, a distribution of our existing resources sounds like it would dilute Stanford’s current excellence, which is the very last thing I want to happen.

Doing it right

Should we pursue a Stanford campus in New York?  I don’t think so.  However, I agree wholeheartedly with President Hennessy that it is Stanford’s responsibility to serve our nation and our planet.  Thus, I think that it makes the most sense for Stanford to act in an advisory role for whatever programs emerge in New York in the upcoming years.  Yes, we do have the skills and experience to help boost New York’s tech market to success, but we don’t need to sacrifice our own efforts to make it happen.  If we help other institutions to help themselves, then we become not only a world-class model, but an important instructor in the methods of advanced education.  And if I recall correctly, educating is what we’re all about.

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12 Responses to “If It Ain’t Broke…. Why I Don’t Support the Stanford NYC Campus Proposal”

  1. PeterGunn says:

    On the plus side, if it keeps all the elitist East Coasters on their side of the country…

  2. Dolo says:

    On the one hand, we definitely have enough to be going on with here–graduate and undergraduate housing, arts facilities, etc. just too many list.

    On the other hand, Stanford has always suffered a little from a lack of connection with the East Coast. Think about it: while Berkeley may be our athletic rival, Stanford really only considers schools like Harvard to be its real rivals. And they’re all on the East Coast.

    In the end, I don’t think any amount of complaining about this will stop it from happening. While I’m opposed to Stanford doing this, I’m almost certain that NYC is going to pick Stanford. If you read their call for proposals, it sounds almost as though they were specifically calling Stanford to respond (no, that’s not arrogance; there’s no university that fits their criteria better than Stanford, esp. given the wording they used in the call), and I’m sure that they were hoping Stanford would respond.

    IMO the city of NY should just give Columbia the money and its engineering school would rocket to the top… money talks, after all.

  3. Dolo says:

    But also, when you think about it, this is a really rare opportunity–to have a city actually hand you $100 million to set up a campus. I know that Stanford will be setting up an East Coast campus within time, so why not seize the opportunity now? Especially considering that it’s in the most desirable city on the East Coast, and that city is providing specific land to build on. So in that sense, this is an extremely desirable opportunity that almost never comes around… so even if Stanford shouldn’t be doing this now (since it has plenty of other stuff to be doing), there’s a good reason to do this now, since it won’t have this opportunity again.

  4. Olivier says:

    You guys are too smart to have such a narrow-minded view. I thought the spirit here was “What new territories can we explore?”, not “Gosh, we might take a risk and loose a part of what we have!”

    We already have a silicon valley, ok.
    What if we had two, in two different places, with twice as much bright people? What if it was more about doubling what we have than sharing it?

    First, the city oh NY gives a lot of money, and indeed it will be a great opportunity to raise money from the east coast. So I wouldn’t worry about having to share the resources with the NY campus.
    Second, and more importantly, it’s not just about the material resource. And share ideas, develop more and more exchange and collaboration opportunities has no price for a place like Stanford.

  5. @Olivier says:

    It’s not so much that we’re opposed to Stanford expanding–I think most students would like to see Stanford expand to awesome locations like New York eventually–but we just have so many problems on campus as it is. Stanford should work on them before expanding. For example, only a small portion of the faculty are housed, and Stanford has difficulty attracting the best faculty because of the cost of living (giving them decent subsidized housing would go a long way). Only half the grad students get housing. There’s still a housing crunch for undergrads, and the housing for them is sometimes decent, sometimes just plain crappy (like Stern and Wilbur). The arts at Stanford suck, and its proposed “arts district” is laughable (all of the land between Cantor and the new Bing Concert Hall will be landscaped “walkway” space instead of buildings). Stanford needs to find a new energy source because its contract with PG&E is almost up, and it’d be costly to build another plant, set up a solar plant, etc. Meyer needs to be demolished and a new library needs to be built. The university has to figure out what it’s going to do with the 20-year-abandoned Old Chem building. There are myriad high-cost projects to work on here already.

    That said, this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Stanford would be stupid not to take it (if offered). So finances will be a bit tight for a few years, and some other projects will have to be put on the backburners–this opportunity will save immense costs in the future.

  6. marylander says:

    I’m an east coast engineer who will be going to school at Stanford this coming year. I’m really excited at the possibility of having an engineer’s engineering college in NYC. It’s truely lacking. Additionally, while Stanford has a fabulous reputation on the west coast they’re a little under-represented on the east. Regionally constrained students can choose to be part of the Stanford community with more locations provided. I hope Stanford gets it!

  7. marylander says:

    Oh, and just for clarity I don’t consider Columbia an engineer’s engineering college because they’re lacking programs in some of the fundamental engineering sectors like Aerospace.

  8. FUNYC says:

    A $100 F-ING MILLION??! That’s it? (no i’m not sarcastic). It took $30+ millions to build the new Huang building. It has no scientific equipment in it. Good luck building a whole campus.

    “oh but we don’t have a campus on the east coast so we can’t really claim ivy-leagueness.” SHUT UP YOUR FUCKING MORONS! Last time I checked, NO ONE CARES in the Valley that Stanford ain’t 100% genuine ivy-league. They care that we kick ass when it comes to science and engineering, not how much smoke we can blow out of our perfect-SAT asses.

    ANYWAY, we will gain nothing really amazing from an NYC campus. Just a plot of land that will drain resources.

  9. marylander says:

    @ FUNYC

    *You’re

  10. buckydent says:

    Typical California wussie, ‘fraid to run with the big dogs.

  11. @buckydent says:

    If you weren’t aware, the so-called “big dogs” are asking schools like Stanford to come over and make them better. They’re asking to run with the real big dogs, i.e. Silicon Valley.

    And FUNYC, nobody wants Stanford to be “Ivy League.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t gain a lot from having a greater presence on the East Coast, which is where its main competitors (like Harvard and MIT) are.

  12. Andy says:

    Here’s what I don’t get: Silicon Valley emerged where it did because of the hardware sector, not the software sector. New York doesnt have the infrastructure nor the space for large companies to provide a backbone for developing another Silicon Valley; real estate in NY is just too expensive for this. The engineering industry does NOT take root in NY because of this. How is creating a campus that won’t be able to feed students into local companies like Google, etc. a good thing? Is Stanford also forgetting that its most prized students (Google founders) actually dropped out??!

    IBM, perhaps the prototypical example of a Silicon-Valley-esque company, is no longer in the same category as these other companies, and, not to mention, it’s in Westchester County, not NYC proper. Stanford is failing to realize that a bunch of students trying to create startups does not a Silicon Valley make; you need the infrastructure, space, and resources to do that. Silicon Valley was a confluence of all of those factors; it cannot be replicated in the way Stanford envisions.

    Andy
    Stanford Engineering PhD student and New York native

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