NYC bid informs future, admins say

Feb. 3, 2012, 2:09 a.m.

This is the second in a series of articles by The Daily News Staff exploring Stanford’s bid and subsequent withdrawal from the competition for an applied sciences and engineering campus in New York City.


After Stanford withdrew from the competition for a tech campus in New York, administrators and faculty maintain that the $3 million Stanford spent on the proposal was not wasted, and that Stanford gained much valuable experience from the venture.


Until mid-December last year, Stanford administrators were eager to list the benefits that would come from building a campus in New York–not only would it bring Stanford’s name and entrepreneurial culture to the East Coast, but it would also allow Stanford to expand the undergraduate population by an estimated 400 students and give Stanford students the chance to study and work in New York. But now that Stanford has withdrawn from the competition, what, if anything, has Stanford gained from over a year’s worth of hard work and $3 million spent on the proposal?


The process of considering what a remote campus would look like was a crucial exercise for Stanford, according to Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering.


“The fundamental question that drove all of this is, what is a research university in the 21st century going to look like?” Plummer said. “Can we be geographically distributed? Should we be? To what degree is distance education going to be a solution? So I actually think that while we’re sorry we didn’t win, the impact on Stanford will still be pretty profound because of the thought process that we went through and the ideas that were generated.”


Provost John Etchemendy also noted that while Stanford has been “constantly approached by institutions, individuals and countries asking…for us to start up a campus,” this is the first time that Stanford has seriously considered working out all the detailed logistics of designing a remote campus.


“We became very clear in our own minds under what circumstances it would make sense to do a remote campus, and that was something that we needed to think through,” Etchemendy said.


In this case, Stanford decided that the risks involved with building a New York campus would be too great to take on.


While some students objected to the lack of campus-wide consultation in the initial stages of the competition process, all the students interviewed by The Daily agreed that the experience was valuable.


“I think it was definitely worth looking into,” said material science and engineering graduate student Scott Himmelberger Ph.D. ‘15. “I think a lot of universities are starting to do that and are going to do so more in the future.”


Himmelberger wrote a letter to the editor in October expressing his support for the project.


“I guess you could just see this as a new venture that Stanford was experimenting with and they were testing the waters,” says Alyson Yamada ‘12, president of Stanford Women in Engineering. “Stanford teaches its students to be entrepreneurial like that…practice what you preach, right?”


Stanford has also enhanced its reputation and raised its profile on the East Coast by participating in the competition, said University spokesperson Lisa Lapin.


“From my standpoint, as a public relations official who cares a lot about Stanford’s reputation, we had positive press and attention from February to December,” Lapin noted. “There was nobody in NYC who didn’t know about it, and there was very broad, widespread acceptance of Stanford on the East Coast. A marketing campaign…would have cost us 20 times the proposal.”


Stanford’s reputation may have been bruised by the withdrawal and subsequent press speculation that Stanford was unprepared for the tough negotiation style of New York, but Sharath Chandra, a New York entrepreneur and founder of startup company My Memory Lane, said he believes that any negative effects will not be long-lasting.


“Residents here are asking what really happened, and it’s easy to blame the one that’s farther away, [but] I don’t think it’ll change what Stanford stands for, beyond the short term,” Chandra said.


Within individual departments on campus that would have been involved with the tech campus, there are varying assessments of how much was gained from the bid.


The School of Engineering had put together a proposal for a class on sustainable urban environments, which would use New York as its testing ground. While the course cannot take place in Palo Alto in the same way, the School of Engineering is hoping to adapt the idea so that a similar course can be held focusing on nearby cities.


“The ideas can well live on without the physical presence of the city,” Plummer said.


Computer Science Department representatives said, on the other hand, that they did not feel their department had benefited in any concrete way.


“I think the whole process was not a bad exercise, and we had a lot of fun talking about it,” said Department Chair Jennifer Widom, though she added that most of the department talks had to do with logistics and faculty hiring and would not be applicable to the future of the department’s work on campus.


Jordan Shapiro contributed to this report.


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