FacSen discusses NYC campus, renovations

Oct. 14, 2011, 2:17 a.m.

University President John Hennessy and electrical engineering professor Bernd Girod updated the Faculty Senate on the proposal for a New York City campus at Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

“I never thought the city of New York would move faster than an academic institution,” Hennessy said as he began his talk, commenting on the fast pace of the proposal process, which he said may be in part due to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s limited term.

The Bloomberg administration requested proposals in July to create an applied-sciences center for teaching and research and pledged $100 million to support infrastructure upgrades at the site. The University plans to submit its formal proposal by the Oct. 28 deadline.

Hennessy said the NYC campus itself is a long-term project and would occur in phases, with the first students arriving in 2013.

“This is something that will play out over many years,” he said. The current proposal includes several phases of building, with campus completion estimated to occur between 2038 and 2045.

The project would have a 10-year horizon for fundraising, Hennessy said.

“Quite frankly, this is a project that will need a significant amount of fundraising,” Hennessy said. He later added, “This project is highly dependent on philanthropy.”

Girod described the project as a “high-risk, high-reward type of endeavor.”

The University is currently focusing on a 10-acre site on Roosevelt Island, between Manhattan and Queens in the East River.

“It has a small village feel because of the layout of the island and what’s there,” Hennessy said. He described it as “urban, but not overwhelming.”

On Tuesday the University announced the creation of a test site called “Stanford@CCNY” in partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) and the City College of New York (CCNY).

Hennessy said this venture would serve as a stepping-stone to the creation of the Roosevelt Island campus, housing a growing Stanford program in an academic setting for its first three years, from 2013 to 2016.

“We hope to have a longer-term relationship with CCNY,” he said at the meeting.

The Roosevelt Island campus would ultimately boast a variety of programs, including several engineering departments and potentially a new program on sustainable urban systems.

All of these developments are contingent upon the acceptance of Stanford’s bid for the NYC campus.

“Cornell is probably the most active competitor with a strong engineering school,” Hennessy said.

The Bloomberg administration is likely to make a final announcement before the end of the year.

Earlier in his presentation, Hennessy joked about Stanford’s advantage due to the University’s close connection with Silicon Valley. He noted that the bidding universities were asked to answer the questions, “How many companies have been founded within 25 miles of your campus?” and “How many graduates choose to settle within 25 miles of your campus?”

A few faculty members had questions after Hennessy’s presentation, raising concerns about the proposal.

History professor Carolyn Lougee Chappell asked if the new graduate campus might limit interaction between undergraduate and graduate students. She also noted that the applied sciences focus should not cause the humanities to be overlooked.

Hennessy said the new location could increase the University’s East Coast presence by casting Stanford not just as an elite engineering university, but also as an elite center for the study of humanities. He suggested the possibility of five or six rotating humanities professors on the New York campus, as well as an “overseas” program in New York for undergraduates.

“Risk assessment should be a very important part of this,” said economics professor Caroline Hoxby. She also expressed concern over the “political risk” the University might face in New York City and the uncertain economic future.

Other members of the Faculty Senate focused on the opportunity cost and internal governance concerns associated with the proposal.

“This will take an enormous amount of management attention,” Hennessy said. “I think the opportunity cost is real in respect to management attention.”

He added that it is “harder to diagnose philanthropic costs,” as a New York campus might inspire a new set of donors.

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