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.
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.
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.”
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.