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President Hennessy discusses the vision for Stanford in New York City

President John Hennessy recently met with Stanford Report, Stanford Daily and Stanford magazine to discuss the university's intentions to respond to New York City's request for proposals to create an applied sciences center for teaching and research. The request for proposals was issued in July following a major speech by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

What would establishing a campus in New York City mean for Stanford's future?

L.A. Cicero John Hennessy

President John Hennessy

Universities must evolve to meet the needs of today's complex world. For example, technology is changing the face of higher education: how we teach as well as the ability to collaborate over distance. I believe these advances will enable distributed universities to be successful and to provide advantages over a single location. 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. The faculty and students we can attract in New York will be of the same quality as those in Palo Alto. Developing a seamless connection between the two campuses is a chance to remain on the forefront of new technologies. Students will be able to take the same classes in both locations: West Coast students participating in courses with instructors on the east and vice versa. And the technologies developed for this purpose can have benefits that extend beyond Stanford: They can be used by other universities, businesses or institutions to eliminate geographic barriers to communication. Each campus will, of course, benefit from these two unique environments.

Over time, we can also develop programs for undergraduates in New York. I can imagine a program potentially larger than our Washington, D.C., program or any of our overseas programs – where students can spend a quarter or more in the city. The cultural richness of New York – in the visual arts, drama, music – offers benefits both to students and to the departments here on campus.

Expanding the engineering school and portions of the business school in New York will give us more latitude in the future to consider developing the home campus in ways that might not be possible if we didn't have the space in New York City.

New York also has the potential for synergies that are not possible here – philanthropic connections, research connections to new industries that do not exist on the West Coast in the same way. The urban environment of New York is like no other in the U.S. We could develop new research strengths, such as the design of sustainable urban systems, that would be difficult to do without the context of New York City.

Landmark decisions have been made throughout the history of Stanford University – the very first, of course, was Leland and Jane Stanford's idea that you could have a "university of high degree," a world-class private university, on the West Coast. After World War II, Fred Terman focused on developing what he called "steeples of excellence" and used federal research funding to expand engineering and science. Then there was the decision in 1959 to move the medical school from San Francisco to Palo Alto and transform it into one of the top medical research institutions. These and many other groundbreaking decisions transformed the shape and direction of the university over the years. Having a presence in New York would be comparable – it would offer Stanford new opportunities to evolve.

 

Why choose to do this in New York City? And why now?

I think there are several things that have motivated this.

First, the country needs another major innovation center that would have some of the dynamism and capability and impact that Silicon Valley has had. That's in the best interests of the country. Obviously, that's in the best interests of New York, which is why New York City is interested.

Now then, why do we find New York City attractive as a home for a second campus? We've certainly been thinking, for a number of years, about whether we should be in more than one location – in a way that's much more definite and determined and at a scale much bigger than our Overseas Studies Program or Stanford in Washington.

As we thought through that and considered locations, mostly outside the United States, we were never convinced that we could hire faculty and attract students, not just from that country, but from around the world, which I think is the hallmark of what we do. This ability to attract students globally is especially crucial at the graduate level.

Our faculty also comes not just from around the United States but from around the world. Getting a permanent faculty to settle somewhere is a challenge. So as we thought about it, I simply said: Where in the U.S. could you find a place, other than the Bay Area, that people would really want to come that would be quite distinctive and quite different, so would perhaps attract people who were looking for a different living environment than this one? The answer is New York City.

Related to that are a set of interesting issues about the future of how we live on this planet. The human family is going to live in significantly more urbanized environments – in the United States, this is happening slowly. But in the rest of the world the urbanization and development of megacities is happening quickly, as we can see in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

To understand how to solve the challenges that we will face in these large-scale cities, it helps to be in one. I think when it comes to the United States, only New York really embodies all the challenges that these megacities will see.

Finally, this was a unique opportunity driven by a visionary mayor who saw an opportunity to make an enormous difference for the country and for the city. It probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.

One of the things that made the timing more attractive for us than it would have been otherwise is the fact that we have just rebuilt large portions of our own campus, so we're not about to embark on a large building program.

We just rebuilt the business school. We've rebuilt most of the engineering quad. So, from the perspective of the need to invest at least in buildings on the core campus, we're not facing that kind of challenge. If this opportunity had come along before we were near the end of The Stanford Challenge, I suspect we would have simply said, "No, thank you. We've got to focus on our own game here on the core campus."

I think all of us who have had some experience in Silicon Valley are reminded of the fact that success certainly is based on great technology, but timing is also a factor. Being at the right place at the right time often affects the outcome of how institutions survive and thrive over time.

 

What does the city of New York get that's tangible out of this?

I think the city has several goals in mind. First of all, New York sees technology playing an increasing role in its economy. If you look at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's address, he's pretty clear about the fact that technology will play a big role in the city's core businesses – finance and media. The mayor also clearly sees technology as a source of future business opportunities, which will help create jobs.

Technology is also a big part of how cities are going to survive – energy technology, thinking about water in a sustainable way, transportation. All these things are fundamentally technology challenges and are critical to the ability of large cites to thrive.

 

Is Roosevelt Island the definitive site?

For the purposes of the proposal, Roosevelt Island is definitely the site we are focusing on. We continue to consider other sites – not other city-controlled sites but privately owned sites. Whether or not any of those make sense, and whether or not you can make the finances work on them, is an open question still. We'll continue to do that until we have some certainty about where we want to end up.

 

Where is the funding for all this coming from?

 The money that's involved in doing the proposal is internal money, primarily presidential discretionary funds. By the time we're done, we may end up spending $1 million doing this proposal and putting it in and getting through the whole process.

In the long term, we will need to raise a lot of money to successfully build out this campus and hire the faculty. Hence both endowment gifts and capital contributions will be important.

It will take decades to build out this campus to the size it can be built out to. We're going to have to engage in a significant fundraising effort, and we're going to have to convince people that this is truly a transformative opportunity.

One of the other things we get out of this is an opportunity to do something that I think universities are experimenting with, trying to understand, which is: Can you really be in more than one place?

Several institutions have done this in fairly modest ways, mostly outside the United States, mostly not with their same tenure-line faculty. We're going to try it in a very different way. We're going to have one computer science department that happens to have 10 faculty in New York and 30 faculty in California. That's quite a bit different from what other institutions have tried.

We're building a center for both research and teaching activities. It is an opportunity to see how far we can push technology, which I think has changed dramatically in terms of telepresence and other ways to connect groups. This technology will continue to improve in the next decade.

And, as you know, flying is no longer a great experience. 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. That's an opportunity.

The advantages of a New York campus (versus one overseas) are three time zones (versus eight or more), one language and the same country with no issues of academic freedom, openness and an acceptance of diversity. New York is a place that's just as diverse as California. All the issues of bringing in and making people feel comfortable in a community work in New York. You know, that's not necessarily the case if we go to other parts of the world.

 

Would you comment on the news reports of a potential partnership between Stanford and local New York campuses?

We're still in a preliminary set of discussions with various universities, as well as industry partners that would want to be part of a collaboration. We're just not quite done in formulating these. We take the view that if we can form some academic partnerships, they will strengthen what we can offer to students, whether undergraduates or graduate students who are on the campus.

 

In a recent media report, you were quoted as saying Stanford is ready to move quickly, open a temporary site and begin offering classes in 2013. Is that accurate?

 That's accurate. This is actually a recommendation which came from the faculty committee that has been reviewing the plan and interacting with their colleagues.

We established this faculty committee, which sent out requests to their colleagues asking for areas of interest, potential concerns, etc. One of the recommendations they came back with is to consider starting earlier to get momentum and to ensure that when you move into the Roosevelt Island facility you actually have a critical mass.

[School of Engineering] Dean Jim Plummer, [Graduate School of Business] Dean Garth Saloner and I found that recommendation compelling. We could begin the hiring process and begin offering admissions to graduate students for 2013.

 

Your proudest alums and your most cynical alums think Stanford can attract faculty most of the time, no matter what. And students will come here. And because you're only a cross-country flight away, there isn't much you can't study or investigate anyway. Can you talk with a little more specificity about how the advantages work?

There are several things to say about that. Let me start with something else though.

We are an American university, founded to do things for the people and this country. That's certainly embedded in the Founding Grant language.

I'm convinced that this country's leadership position in science and technology will be jeopardized if we cannot grow more major institutions and produce more graduates in science and technology. That's a key goal from our perspective and very much in keeping with the Founding Grant's aspirations, as well as the goals of New York City and the mayor.

There are faculty we cannot attract from the East Coast who would love to be Stanford faculty members. Perhaps we could attract them to New York.

Why the East Coast? For some, it's family; for others, it's a desire to live in an urban environment that offers a set of cultural opportunities that are completely different from what you can do here.

I think we probably can attract students from around the world. I think there are questions about what kinds of problems you can study in situ and the kinds of strategic research relationships you can build with a very different set of industries that exist there. I believe there are opportunities to build new kinds of research alignments.

Look at what the Valley does real well. If it's really high tech, we do it really well. Look at what comes out of New York in terms of style, sense of aesthetics, fashion, high-end media. These are areas where New York City is a leader.

I think there's an opportunity to fuse these two kinds of cultures – the New York creative culture together with the Valley creative culture – and maybe make something quite a bit different. They're both creative cultures, but they're very different kinds of creative cultures.

 

How do you envision the governance structure of the New York City campus?

We have said from the beginning this is one university, one faculty. So we envision that the faculty will belong to existing departments and will be within the governance framework of the existing departments.

We will need an academic leader there who is the spokesperson, who is looking after the development of that campus, considering issues of hiring capacity, what potential opportunities would exist that would magnify our presence there, either because they connect with existing things or create other opportunities.

We envision a vice provost and dean for the New York campus, in much the same way we do now for undergraduate education, graduate education or research. That individual will have planning and budgetary responsibilities for the New York campus, but the faculty will still belong to their core disciplines, their core departments and schools. 

 

New York City is constantly retrenching economically. Do you worry – since you talked about this as something that will go on for decades and decades – that the initial agreement you rely on will be too fragile?

One always has to worry about economic changes that will occur. I think the mayor's vision is to invest now: Perhaps when things are challenging is the best time to make the investments that help you ensure that you will prosper in the future. I think that's the way he's thinking about it. One of the things driving the mayor to establish an applied sciences center is his interest in creating high-quality jobs for Americans, especially for New Yorkers.

One of the Valley CEOs once told me that people who are great leaders of institutions are as good in down times as they are in up times. It's easy in up times; everybody can be a great leader. Things are getting better. The natural cycle is up. How do you lead when things are getting tougher? And how do you continue that focus on long-term investment?

By the way, this is exactly the same problem the country faces. 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.

 

What could be the tipping point for Stanford securing the bid?

Certainly we have the history, having already been a major factor in creating Silicon Valley and the local innovation structure. That's what the mayor would like to see happen.

So we have a lot of experience in understanding how to do it. Not just through our research but in helping our faculty and students who decide they want to try to commercialize something. We have educational programs and mentors that can enable our faculty and students who desire to do the "entrepreneurial thing" to be successful.

We also have a tradition of excellence. And a goal that what we do in New York will be every bit as good as what we do here. I think that's critically important for us; our goal is that the NYC campus may be smaller but it is just as excellent. We bring that tradition of excellence and commitment to this endeavor.

 

When is a decision expected by New York?

Their time schedule is the end of this year. One of the fascinating things about this process is it's moving at a pace which – either by normal government processes or by academic processes, by the way – is incredibly fast.

Just engaging the faculty and getting people to voice whatever concerns or problems they may see has had to be done. And given that it is summer, this has been challenging. The process of planning our efforts will naturally go on, long after the proposal is submitted.

If we had our druthers, we'd take a year, or even two, to plan out this effort and work through the many details for numerous faculty committees. We just don't have that luxury, because this is a unique opportunity created by a visionary mayor.

 

What's the next step after submitting the response to the RFP?

There is a set of interviews in the city at the end of November. And then a quick decision/negotiation process to see whether or not they can get a signed agreement done by the end of the year. We're working with a mayor whose term runs out at the end of 2013. His goal is to ensure there is a shovel in the ground and this project is going before he gets out of office.

We have a lot of planning to do. In some sense, we're focusing very much on the first five to 10 years. There will be a lot of opportunity subsequently to decide where we want to go next. Besides, I wouldn't try to predict what would be the most important opportunities more than 10 years out.

We've talked about a variety of possibilities. I think there's growing enthusiasm for trying to do an undergraduate-focused quarter in New York, or even a whole year in New York, and maybe attach it to summer internships as well. I think that is something we would like to see develop over time. Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, has expressed an interest in those undergraduate opportunities. That's an example of something that we will likely do, but the details of which can wait for later.

 

What faculty have you relied on particularly heavily?

We have a faculty advisory committee that's chaired by Bill Dally, who has a joint appointment in electrical engineering and computer science, containing faculty from the School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Business. Obviously, the deans have played a big role in trying to think this through and how it might be organized, as well as offering their concerns and issues.

Our efforts to engage various faculty groups will continue now that the academic year has begun.

 

What are the disadvantages Stanford faces in this process?

Well, we're 3,000 miles away. Some of the other institutions are anywhere from 2 miles away to 300 miles away. I don't know whether that's an advantage or disadvantage, but it certainly presents some interesting challenges. We don't have a presence in New York. Cornell, for example, already has a medical school in New York, although the focus of the project is not on biomedicine. Obviously, New York University and Columbia, as well as other institutions, have a presence in New York as well.

There are a variety of hurdles that, as a California institution, we will have to overcome.

 

How will your sabbatical affect the process?

We timed my sabbatical to start after the bid is due, and after New York City has made a decision. So I'll be taking off around the third week in February, then I'll be here for some things that we have to do in March, and then I'll be back and forth, but mostly away, for the spring.

The New York campus will be an incredibly interesting opportunity. If you look at what's happened in the last few years in large corporations and other institutions, they've moved into multiple sites. And it's not just that they have a sales office or a manufacturing office. Google New York is the fastest growing branch of Google right now. Intel has its corporate headquarters and a large design group here, but it also has a very active group in Oregon and in Israel. And they are collaborating across those time zones. I think this mode of operation is already common in industry.

Now, universities are obviously in a different position, having mostly existed in only one place. As technology gets better and universities grow in capability, the potential advantages of being in more than one location also grow. Understanding how to make such an endeavor work well will be a major advantage to the institutions that master it.

Media Contact

Lisa Lapin, University Communications: (650) 725-5456, lapin@stanford.edu