Stanford committed to NYC proposal, Purdue drops bid

Sept. 29, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

University President John Hennessy emphasized Stanford’s commitment to its proposal for a New York City (NYC) applied sciences campus in a recent, joint interview with the Stanford Report, Stanford magazine and The Daily.

The interview came just days before Purdue University dropped its bid this Monday, citing insufficient financial backing from the city. The Bloomberg administration has pledged $100 million so far to help support infrastructure upgrades at the site. However, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) estimates a new school would cost hundreds of millions more.

Purdue is the first institution to drop from the bid, according to the WSJ.

Hennessy estimated that the bid could cost as much as $1 million and that he expects presidential discretionary funds to cover most of the cost; should Stanford be chosen, the University will need to raise money in the form of endowment gifts and capital contributions.

Acknowledging concerns that NYC might economically retrench in the decades during which the campus would be built, Hennessy said he believed that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is set on investing now to promote prosperity in the future.

“If we decide we’re going to solve all our budget problems by slashing discretionary spending, by cutting our investments in research and education, the long-term impact on our economic growth will make that a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision,” he said.

Hennessy and University Spokesperson Lisa Lapin both said the amount of funding the University plans to allocate to public relations firm Edelman and political consulting firm Tusk, recently hired to assist with the bid, is negligible.

In a speech at IBM’s THINK Forum on Sept. 22, Bloomberg noted that NYC has surpassed Boston in becoming the second largest recipient of venture capital funding and that NYC has ambitions to surpass Silicon Valley’s lead.

“The country needs another major innovation center that would have some of the dynamism and capability and impact that Silicon Valley has had,” Hennessy said. “That’s in the best interests of the country.”

Hennessy added that being at the right place at the right time is key to successful innovation. Having students and faculty in NYC could significantly shape the University’s ability to contribute to solving urban problems, which he said are only growing.

Twenty-five other schools remain in the running, including New York University (NYU), Cornell University and Columbia University. NYU and Columbia are both based in the city, and Cornell’s medical school is also housed there.

Hennessy cited Stanford’s 3,000-mile distance as one of the unique hurdles the University faces in comparison to other runners. One potential way for Stanford to overcome that distance is to partner with various universities and industry partners. A Sept. 20 WSJ report stated that Stanford is in talks with the City University of New York (CUNY) about collaborating to some degree in creating the center. Hennessy confirmed the University has engaged in preliminary talks with CUNY.

When asked about the challenges that such a distance might present if Stanford were to win the bid, however, Hennessy expressed confidence in the potential for groundbreaking collaboration between the two campuses.

“A New York campus offers us an opportunity to develop a new model for a multi-campus university, one that allows us to maintain the excellence of Stanford,” he said.

A presence on the East Coast will allow the University to attract faculty who might not otherwise join Stanford for geographical reasons.

He also predicted that the need for better long-distance communication will give rise to the development of new conferencing technologies bridging geographic barriers that can be used by other universities, businesses and institutions.

“As you know, flying is no longer a great experience,” Hennessy said. “There is too much overhead; it is extremely inefficient, and it is bad for the environment. So if we can find a way to work virtually, I think you can justify very large expenditures in return for eliminating small numbers of trips.”

Hennessy likened the NYC bid to several “landmark decisions” in the University’s history, from its foundation to move the medical school to Palo Alto and build one of the world’s leading medical research institutions.

“These and many other groundbreaking decisions transformed the shape and direction of the University over the years,” Hennessy said. “Having a presence in New York would be comparable — it would offer Stanford new opportunities to evolve.”

The deadline for universities’ responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP) is Oct. 28. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) committee assessing the responses expects to make its decision by the end of this calendar year.

Kathleen Chaykowski contributed to this report.

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