Hennessy sees potential for dynamic partnership in creating New York City center of innovation

President John Hennessy, delivering his annual address to the Academic Council on Thursday, focused primarily on Stanford's recent expression of interest in developing an applied science campus in New York City.

Video of President Hennessy's complete address, plus panel and question and answer period that followed.

Photos by L.A. Cicero John Hennessy, James Plummer, Jennifer Widom and Robert Reidy

Along with President Hennessy, the panel included James Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering; Jennifer Widom, chair of the Department of Computer Science; and Bob Reidy, vice president of land, buildings and real estate.

President John Hennessy told members of the Academic Council on Thursday that the "massive transformation in the ability to close distances with technology" would make it possible for Stanford to succeed in opening a campus in New York City.

In the process, he envisions creating a "world-class model for the multi-campus university."

Hennessy focused his annual university address on Stanford's recent expression of interest in developing an applied science and engineering campus in New York City. Following his address, he fielded questions about Stanford's tentative proposal with James Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering; Jennifer Widom, chair of the Department of Computer Science; and Bob Reidy, vice president of land, buildings and real estate.

Stanford was one of 27 institutions that submitted proposals to the New York City Economic Development Corp. last month in response to a request for "expressions of interest" to build and operate an applied science campus. The city is expected to issue a formal request for proposals by this summer, and hopes to select a proposal by the end of 2011.

Hennessy said a Stanford campus in New York could become the "nucleus of a major center of innovation."

"New York is the cultural capital of the United States," he said. "It is also the media capital. It's the place where the new, new thing happens in a very different dimension than it happens in the Bay Area."

Figuring out whether the cultures and strengths of Stanford and New York City can come together and be transformative will be the real question, he said.

"But if that works, it will change the face of higher education," Hennessy said.

Reidy used charts, photographs and maps to take the audience on a "visual journey" of Stanford's proposal to build a New York campus. One location offered by New York City that Stanford is considering is on 2-mile-long Roosevelt Island, located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens and home to about 12,000 people.

"It is a unique place, mainly used for housing, hospitals and recreation," Reidy said. "It is a special place in that it's oddly apart from the city, but very closely adjacent."

Reidy said some existing buildings would be demolished, creating a 10-acre site for the new campus.

"Think about 10 acres in close proximity to Manhattan," Reidy said. "That's really hard to come by. From that perspective it is a great opportunity. But it does have its challenges."

Reidy said the university's preliminary proposal included residential towers and academic buildings – roughly 200,00 square feet each – centered around an open green space, with cafes, retail shops, an auditorium and gym on the edge of the river.

John Hennessy

President Hennessy told the council that a Stanford campus in New York could become the 'nucleus of a major center of innovation.'

Widom said the new campus would give the Department of Computer Science the opportunity to hire 10 to 20 new faculty members. However, she said it would take a while to "ramp up" hiring.

"We will not lower our quality threshold in order to hire faculty for New York," she said. "That means it's going to take some time. We may be able to increase our faculty size by one or two per year while still meeting our threshold. But we do want to ramp up and we're very excited about that."

Widom said it would be essential for some of the new faculty to move to New York and for some of the existing faculty to move there either temporarily or permanently. She said a large fraction of computer science faculty members raised their hands when asked during a recent faculty meeting if they would be interested in spending time in New York.

Widom said she sees few challenges finding students for the New York campus, since the department turns away many qualified graduate applicants every year.

Plummer said the first phase of the proposed academic program would be centered on information technology, and most of the students and faculty would come from electrical engineering, computer science and, perhaps, the school's management science and engineering department.

He said Stanford departments would hire the faculty for the New York campus using exactly the same process currently used to hire faculty members here.

Plummer said one of the challenges would be to make the New York City campus "look, feel and be" part of Stanford, not a distinct and separate entity.

"That is going to depend on a lot of things, but perhaps in a really significant way it's going to depend on how effectively we can make distance education work," he said.

"We envision faculty here and faculty in New York teaching classes to students in New York and students here in real time. The students in both places need to feel and be part of the same classroom experience. They need to have the same access to faculty and the same access to teaching assistants and so on."

An undergraduate student in the audience asked if the New York campus would have a fountain, noting that fountain hopping is part of the Stanford tradition.

"I imagine in the future people will say, 'Where is the river on the California campus?'" Hennessy joked, to appreciative laughter from the audience.

In another humorous aside on the benefits of a New York campus, Hennessy said: "As a native New Yorker, I'm looking forward to New York pizza."

Why Stanford is considering a New York City campus

In his prepared speech, Hennessy said Stanford had received many invitations to consider setting up campuses and programs throughout other parts of the world, especially Asia.

"While we are engaged as consultants and partners with a number of institutions around the world, we have so far chosen not to set up another full-fledged Stanford campus, primarily because we were concerned that we could not establish a permanent presence with a cohort of faculty and students whose quality matched that of our home campus," he said. "New York is different. We can attract great faculty and great students committed to Stanford and a New York campus."

Hennessy described the potential campus as a great opportunity to team up with a dynamic partner – New York City – to create a center of innovation.

"We have an incredible entrepreneurial culture, and we understand how to partner with industry and successfully transfer research advances to the marketplace," he said. "Stanford researchers and alumni have established thriving companies that employ thousands of people – companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Netflix, eBay and many others."

He said a Stanford campus in New York would increase the university's visibility on the East Coast and perhaps connect with new sources of philanthropic support.

"A New York presence also provides us the opportunity to master multi-site operations – something I believe is essential for the 21st-century university," he said. "We already have a strong foundation in distance education, and this would enable us to further refine and expand that foundation. It offers a supportive setting for creating a world-class model for the multi-campus university: Setting up operations in the same country just three time zones away, where there are no issues about academic freedom, is much more manageable than establishing a campus in a different country six or eight time zones away."

Stanford's proposal

"Our plan would be to develop a New York program that is integrated with the programs on the main campus, distributing people and talent and sharing courses and research activities, rather than replicating existing activities at a smaller scale," Hennessy said. "Rather than having two computer science departments, for example, we envision one department with perhaps 25 percent of its faculty at the New York campus."

He said the School of Engineering, the Graduate School of Business, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and the Stanford Technology Ventures Program would all play key roles from the beginning, with other activities added over time.

Hennessy said New York City has suggested four potential sites for the new campus. While Stanford's proposal focused on Roosevelt Island, Hennessy said the university would explore other sites as the process unfolds.

"If we pursue this opportunity, it would develop in several phases," he said. "In Phase 1, the first five years of the project, we envision about 25 faculty, including visiting faculty from the Palo Alto campus; 150 doctoral students; and 300 master's students. The focus of the first phase would be on information technology – electrical engineering and computer science – with special attention given to entrepreneurship education and research. Executive education both in technical fields and in management would also be featured."

Hennessy said he has asked Plummer and Garth Saloner, dean of the Graduate School of Business, to appoint a faculty advisory committee to provide guidance and counsel as the university plans the initial phase and contemplates submitting a formal proposal.

Over the next 20 years, the campus would expand to include about 100 faculty and 2,000 students, he said.

"There would also be opportunities to take advantage of all that New York City offers, especially in new media and cultural opportunities, and I can see broadening the base of subjects offered to include green technology, biomedical engineering, new media, financial mathematics and urban studies,  just to name a few," he said.

"There would also be opportunities to host other visiting undergraduate and graduate program, perhaps an academic quarter in New York similar to our Stanford in Washington program, as well as opportunities to host students in the business school or other disciplines."

Entering the final stage of The Stanford Challenge

In his address, Hennessy also discussed areas of university progress, including The Stanford Challenge, which is entering its last six months. The five-year fundraising campaign was launched in 2006 to "transform the university and better prepare us to lead in this century," he said.

Hennessy said the campaign has been enormously successful, despite the global economic crisis, raising more than $5 billion and surpassing the original goal of $4.3 billion.

"Despite that, there is still much to do," Hennessy said. "Financing for our enhancements to undergraduate financial aid, combined with greater need caused by the economy and a reduced endowment to fund these costs, led us to triple our fundraising goal for undergraduate financial aid [to $300 million].

"Likewise, threats to federal funding mean we need to increase the university support we provide for our graduate students," he continued.

"Finally we also want to ensure that we continue to attract and retain the best scholars on our faculty, and restoring the faculty positions reduced during the crisis will require new endowed faculty support."

He said the campaign has positioned Stanford to "do the work of this century" by enabling it to build 21st-century facilities and update outmoded facilities; to strengthen its commitment to undergraduate financial aid and endow more than 250 graduate fellowships; to fund faculty positions, including 60 endowed professorships; and to secure support for important new centers and institutes.

He said Stanford had dedicated several new academic buildings last fall, including the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center where he was speaking. On April 29 Stanford will dedicate the Knight Management Center, and in May the Neukom Law Building.

Other dedications will follow in the years to come. The Bing Concert Hall is expected to open to the public in January 2013. Construction on a new home for the Department of Art and Art History, the Burton and Deedee McMurtry Building, is expected to begin in 2012. Also on the construction horizon is a new Biology Building, which has received a naming gift.

"A campaign of this magnitude is necessarily a marathon, and we are entering the final stage," he said. "We are definitely on the right track to achieve the ambitious goals we set for ourselves, but now is the time for that final push. We want to finish strong, and I have no doubt that with your help and with the enthusiastic support of our alumni and friends, we will do so."