I’ve always cheered for Stanford. Consider me as being part of the “Red Zone” of Stanford life in general. I love this institution, so I’ve always trusted its decisions in the past — whether academic, athletic or administrative. Yet it is precisely because I love Stanford that I find myself cheering against it for the first time in my academic career.
Yesterday, Stanford submitted its proposal to the New York City Economic Development Corporation to build StanfordNYC, a $2.5 billion campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Let me say that again: $2.5 billion. That is more than double the initial estimate Stanford put forth a few weeks ago. Stanford wants to spend the equivalent of 15 percent of its endowment on a New York campus designed to “become a hub of technological innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States.” I don’t know if President Hennessy has checked recently, but we seem to already have that goal firmly established in the 94305 ZIP code.
Instead of spending billions of dollars developing President Hennessy’s dream New York real estate, Stanford should be focusing that enormous sum of money here on campus. Why not use it to curb ever-ballooning tuition costs to make Stanford more affordable for everyone? You know, this place was free when Jane and Leland founded it back in 1891. That $2.5 billion could pay every undergraduate’s tuition…for over nine years. Why not attract the best and the brightest to the “hub of technological innovation and entrepreneurship” that we already have in Palo Alto by completely paying for their education? I’m sure that would do the trick.
But I understand; that’s probably too radical of a concept. So I’ll tone it down a bit: why don’t we get on par with our competitors and become need-blind for international students? Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Dartmouth and Amherst all don’t take financial need into consideration when admitting international students. Stanford must do the same. That would do far more to attract the world’s greatest minds than building a new campus in New York City. The administration cannot call a need-blind policy for internationals fiscally untenable when it apparently has a few billion dollars at its fingertips. And why stop there? You know that great financial aid program that we rolled out a few years ago in which families making under $100,000 would have their tuition covered by financial aid? We’ll always have an inferiority complex when it comes to the East Coast (an underlying motivation for StanfordNYC?), so why not bump that baseline to $165,000 to match Harvard? Better yet, make it $200,000. As far as I can tell, if we have billions of dollars to play around with, Stanford has no excuse not to offer the best financial aid in the nation.
Yet it’s not just the financial aspects of StanfordNYC that bother me. The fact that it would be a campus focused on engineering, technology and entrepreneurship automatically precludes approximately two-thirds of all Stanford students, based on the University’s 2010-2011 Common Data Set and Graduate Student Profile, from ever utilizing this new crown jewel fully. Even if we’re willing to accept this idea, then what about the faculty? Are we hiring new professors? Are we going to send some of our best professors there? We shouldn’t cause a brain drain here on our home campus solely to seed StanfordNYC with reputable faculty.
Most importantly, this whole idea seems likely to devalue the fundamentals of a Stanford education. StanfordNYC would be its own degree-granting institution. That means that students could never set foot on this campus and still get a Stanford diploma. Furthermore, during the proposal application process, Stanford established a partnership with the City College of New York (CCNY) called Stanford@CCNY, which, if Stanford’s proposal is accepted, will allow “highly qualified” City College students to attain a master’s degree from Stanford through joint CCNY-Stanford B.A./M.S. and B.S./M.S. degree programs. How can a university that values its brand so much willingly allow this to happen? Call me an overly sentimental senior, but the Stanford experience is here. It feels wrong to me to allow people to call themselves Stanford graduates without spending a significant period of time at this campus or without being accepted exclusively to Stanford in the first place. Maybe it’s the way of the future — for example, NYU has a campus in Abu Dhabi now — but I don’t feel like this is a trend Stanford should embrace just yet.
That brings me to my major problem with this StanfordNYC initiative: as students, we haven’t had a choice in the matter. It seems that because President Hennessy and the rest of the administration think that StanfordNYC is a good idea, it’s been pushed down our collective throats. Hennessy is more than willing to get glowing endorsements from Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jerry Yang, but the voice of the student body has been ignored. Have we ever been consulted? Have we had an opportunity to raise any concerns to the administration? That $2.5 billion for StanfordNYC ostensibly contains some amount of our tuition money or future donations to this school.
President Hennessy, talk to us. Maybe there are some benefits to StanfordNYC that I’m missing, but without a dialogue it simply doesn’t matter. Until then, for the first time in my life, all I can say is: Go Cornell!
Shane Savitsky, ’12
Managing Editor of Opinions