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Stanford officials reflect on NYC proposal

This is the first 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. The next article will weigh the costs and gains of Stanford’s participation in the competition.

 

Stanford withdrew its bid for a New York applied sciences and engineering campus because the city repeatedly revised the terms of its offer and could not be trusted as a reliable partner, said Stanford administrators, responding to media reports that Stanford was not adequately prepared for the tough negotiation style of New York officials.

 

Stanford withdrew its proposal for a New York campus on Dec. 16. (Courtesy of Redsquare, Inc.)

Stanford’s sudden withdrawal on Dec. 16 surprised many, as the University was considered a frontrunner in the competition. The University press release announced that Stanford had decided, “it would not be in the best interests of the University to continue to pursue the opportunity,” but did not provide any details or explanation.

 

Cornell, Stanford’s main competitor and the ultimate competition winner, announced a $350 million gift hours after Stanford’s withdrawal, prompting speculations that Stanford had pulled out after hearing about Cornell’s donation in advance, an allegation that Stanford administrators have denied.

 

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that “the University, with no experience building in New York, recoiled at meeting terms laid down by the city after its proposal was submitted, while Cornell, with extensive experience in the city–its medical school is in Manhattan–expected such negotiations.” The New York Times quoted a city official as saying, “Stanford could not or would not keep up.”

 

Up until now, Stanford officials have not spoken publicly about specific details of the failed negotiations.

 

Last Thursday, President John Hennessy discussed his decision with the Faculty Senate. “The city made a set of requirements which from our perspective, would increase the risk and cost, and decrease some of the long term benefits,” he said. “While we believed we could win the proposal, it would require us to make concessions which would reduce future opportunities for the core campus…and compromise the university campus.”

 

Officials at both the New York Mayor’s office and the New York City Economic Development Corporation refused to comment on the negotiation process and whether they had played a “bait and switch” game with Stanford.

 

“All schools were competing on the same terms and all of the terms were outlined specifically in the RFP (Request for Proposal). It’s that simple,” said one city official, who asked to remain anonymous and declined to comment further.

 

“Nothing about the RFP was firm,” said University spokesperson Lisa Lapin. “The city was making changes to all of the terms of the project.”

 

For instance, Lapin said that the city required Stanford to proceed with the project even if the city revoked the $100 million it promised to the competition winner.

 

“There were issues about liability for…the environmental risks involved in the site,” Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82 told The Daily. “They wanted us to indemnify them for anything they had done, anything that had happened. So for example, if somebody sued about exposure to chemicals 20 years ago, we would have been liable; and that’s an example.”

 

Hennessy added that the city also backtracked on the amount of land they had promised. Originally, Stanford believed they would be granted land from shore to shore on Roosevelt Island. But New York cut back the land offer, which meant that Stanford would have to pay to buy additional land if they wanted to build the campus for which they originally planned.

 

Finally, Hennessy said Stanford could not see eye to eye with the city on how quickly the campus could scale up.

 

“We would not compromise our faculty hiring standards,” Hennessy said. “Particularly when many faculty already believe they live in Nirvana…[that] increased some of the issues for us in terms of how to scale up.”

 

Hennessy and the faculty committee resisted the city’s push to ramp up quickly.

 

“This needs to be one university, two campuses, not an A campus and a B campus,” Hennessy said. “Clearly, a smaller campus but it can’t be different quality-wise. And that I think was a real point of differentiation between Stanford and what the city wanted.”

 

Besides the changing terms of the RFP, it seems that Stanford was turned off by the tone of the negotiations, which led the University to feel that it could not work successfully with the city.

 

“I think Stanford wanted very much to do this, if we had a willing partner in New York City,” said Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering. “I think that it became clear as we went through the negotiations that it was more of a city talking to a land developer kind of discussion, rather than a partner talking to a partner.”

 

All together, these aspects made Stanford feel that success could not be guaranteed.

 

“If we could not succeed in achieving everything that NYC wanted, then we would have had a campus 3,000 miles away that would end up being an albatross around our neck,” Etchemendy said.

 

In New York, Roosevelt Islanders said they were shocked to hear that Stanford was withdrawing.

 

“Everybody was completely stunned beyond imagination; the news flew through the community like wildfire,” said Denise Shull, a common councilor on Roosevelt Island’s Residents Association Silicon Island Subcommittee.

 

Schull said she was disappointed that Stanford dropped their bid.

 

“From my perspective…the island was much more in support of Stanford. They just have a fabulous reputation. There’s just no two ways about it,” she said.

 

On the other hand, residents have also welcomed Cornell enthusiastically.

 

“In reflection, now that Cornell is going to be here, New York is going to be able to do its own thing, rather than be a satellite to Silicon Valley,” said Jonathan Kalkin, former director of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation.

 

At the end of the day, Stanford maintains that the bid was worthwhile, even though the proposal cost the University $3 million.

 

“The saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is most apt,” read the University press release at the time of Stanford’s withdrawal.

  • GSB

    Who cares now? It’s all over already.  What’s the point of bringing up this topic again?

  • Sam C. c/o ’05

    Good details.  Sounds like a wise decision to not let the scope of the proposal creep in an unfavorable direction.

  • steve

    Stanford is a fantastic institution, as  New Yorker I am saddened to see them not become an integral part of the city fabric BUT I brazenly toss out a question and an opportunity. New York Metropolitan Region encompasses four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut…and if you really attach the extended market – a fair chunk of south western Mass. 
    as well. Within this market are Cornell, Princeton, Columbia, Sara Lawrence,
    Bard, SUNY, U Conn, Rutgers, Vasser and many others. 

    Thus…what if Stanford were to re-work the overall plan as something much more manageable from a land-cost and land-use aspect, as well as timing and consider establishing an East Coast presence adjacent to one of our existing universities in the NY Metro Region? For example: purchase a large tract of land in the northern suburbs of Ulster County in the vicinity of Newburgh-New Paltz-Kingston corridor and establish an eastern “mirror” of the original campus. This positions the campus within relative access to many of its competitors; easily within an hour of NYC specifically; benefits one of the growing suburban regions and establishes an education and research hub on the east coast but with much more freedom to craft the campus and curriculum with more time and less expense. WE would certainly welcome an institution of this pedigree.

  • Bill ’80

    Really? I think a lot of people want to know just what happened. Do you never analyze past events? 

  • Ithaca pride

    Stanford FAIL. 

  • Dding339

    The tone of this article and the people quoted are in pretty poor taste. A deal did not go through, so you start to recriminate the partner. 

  • AG

    What you said makes sense… Ulster County is about halfway between NYC and Albany – where the first (and maybe only)  Nanotechnology college is attracting a lot of tech companies from all over the world to it’s SUNY Albany – CNSE campus.

  • Midwest

    I think Stanford had a great and strong proposal. However, Cornell’s turned out to be the top one. Look at the flyover of their design.
    http://www.betabeat.com/2011/12/21/aerial-video-flyover-cornell-technion-12212011/

  • Pdavies

    While Stanford may not have appreciated the negotiating tactics of NYC, I have heard from inside sources that the unlimited environmental liability that NYC wanted Stanford to take on is really what broke this deal. Hopefully, Cornell doesn’t find itself in the middle of a Superfund cleanup/litigation a couple of years down the road.

  • Mark

    Both are nice.  Maybe the 2 schools can work together on this eventually, as they have so often in the past.  From the Coast Range sunset fires to far above Cayuga’s waters, to Roosevelt Island and maybe Governors Island.

  • Mark

    Um, actually, as a Cornellian, I find that people at Cornell and Stanford like each other, and like each other’s schools.

  • Bill

    I quite agree, and as a Stanford alum I find the Cornell Club in NYC, where I am a member, to be a very hospitable and unpretentious place to stay whenever I’m in town.

  • Mark

    Mind you, the weather….  Back in the 1890s the “Cornell Colony” at Stanford sent letters back to balmy Ithaca complaining about the horrible Palo Alto climate.  Nyah, nyah!

  • Swarthmore ’13

    I like both schools too.  But your remark about the weather is supposed to be a joke, right?  If so, I don’t get it.

  • Mark

    No joke – well, yes, it is.  But the Cornellians in Palo Alto in the 1890s were serious.  They said the place was a desert:  dried, caked earth, dust flying around.  Buildings were still being erected and I guess no sidewalks had been laid or the place seeded to grass.  And the Stanford University librarian who wrote poetry about “Ithaca, My Ithaca” probably remembered the town in the late spring, summer and early fall, when Ithaca really is beautiful, or as the t-shirts read, “Ithaca Is Gorges” – and waterfalls, abundantly nourished by all the, ah, precipitation.
    As for Stanford, it shows what a little grass seed can do, or in Stanford’s case, a lot of grass seed.