Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: A student’s look at StanfordNYC

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

  • Bcnelson

    StanfordNYC is about more than NYC. We need innovation across the country. Having our fastest growing and most promising sector located solely in one region is not beneficial for the country. If you are interested in the future of the USA, you are interested in the future of StanfordNYC…

  • Shane,

    I think you have made several excellent criticisms, although I think there are also some excellent counterpoints that address them

    1) Most of your complaints have to do with funding.  The simple problem is that the money for NYC does not come at the opportunity cost of tuition cuts or international need blind aid, but rather from new development efforts from alums and other donors who would be interested in a NYC campus.  In other words, we are not crowding out these priorities, but rather augmenting them.  The Development Office has explained to me before that it is very hard to raise funds for international need blind aid.  It’s a lot easier to offer naming opportunities for buildings in NYC than it is for scholarships for students.  That’s an unfortunate reality, and one that I wish was different, but people can donate their money how they choose.

    2) This NYC campus is devoted to graduate programs.  Therefore, I think it is a little problematic to talk about the loss of the “experience” of being on the Stanford campus, which I think is more a part of an undergraduate program than a graduate program.  I most definitely think that Stanford can support graduate programs off-campus with the right leadership.

    3) It is clearly obvious that the academic programs (aka how this is all going to work) is underdeveloped.  But let’s keep in mind that this NYC campus is a major initiative, slated for construction over the coming decade.  Stanford will have plenty of time to choose the right approach to offering an education.  Right now, we have to seize the opportunity though.

    Overall, I think we are missing a bigger part of the equation.  Universities are establishing branch campuses all across the world (Duke, NYC, Georgetown, Cornell, etc.)  Stanford has resisted such efforts, and rightly so.  But here is an opportunity to put Stanford at the center of the most important city in America.  This is where strategic vision comes in, and I am glad that I graduated from a university that is willing to aggressively cultivate new opportunities to expand our prominence in this country.

  • Guest

    Wasn’t there a survey that showed the majority of students DON’T support the StanfordNYC bid? What were those results exactly?

  • I live and work in New York City; I’m elated about the potential for a world-class graduate tech program like Stanford to add a branch here in the city. I think you should consider the choice of prospective students.

    I also agree with Danny and Bcnelson…we need innovation across the country, and adding a school that would train candidates with points of view different from that of Silicon Valley would, in my opinion, be all the more beneficial.

  • Anon Amos

    This bid is nothing more than Hennesy wanting to leave a legacy. It is an expensive pet project. How can we, as Stanford, commit to such an expensive experiment when we have not even tested running remote programs on a smaller scale? Additionally, with the other campus on the east coast, what are the synergies with the existing campus? As a Stanford professor, I also feel Cornell is absolutely the right choice. This is a top down decision with little to no consultation with the wider Stanford community.

  • Gmcon

    : Contrary to those who worry about a brain drain, Stanford NYC will have the opposite effect. It will attract dozens of superstar faculty members, and hundreds of top-notch students to Stanford, who would otherwise turn Stanford down because they prefer to live on the East Coast, in a major world-renown city. Also, because Stanford NYC will be integrated with the Palo Alto campus, via high-tech teleconferencing, etc., students in Palo Alto will have effectively the same access to any faculty that might move to New York.

    As for the cost, more than half of it will come not only from New York city’s grant of free land, and $100 million, but also from a 1.5 billion dollar fundraising campaign in New York, where donors who would otherwise never give a penny to Stanford, would give millions because their city would be benefitting. Thus, the view that the money would be better spent on cutting tuition is misleading. New York city donors with no previous ties to Stanford are simply not going to donate millions for that purpose.

    And, contrary to the fear that a Stanford degree would lose value, quite the opposite is likely. Stanford, despite being one of the best universities in the entire world (if not THE best!), is often neglected on the East Coast, simply because it has no presence there, and is thus routinely ignored. Stanford NYC will thus increase Stanford’s reputation nationwide, and worldwide as well. Stanford NYC is truly a win win for Stanford, for its current students, and for its proud (but NOT arrogant) alumni!

  • Gm

    I agree wholeheartedly with Gmcon. I really believe Stanford University, it’s students, and it’s alumni should be thrilled at the prospect of StanfordNYC. The stature and reputation of Stanford can only be enhanced by being a catalyst for a technological revolution in the most famous city in the world. The East coast will be unable to ignore Stanford’s academic excellence, innovation, and entrepreneurship with a successful StanfordNYC campus.

    Stanford has the number one computer science department in the world, the number one business school in the world, and the overall best engineering school in the world (with the possible exception of MIT). I really believe that if StanfordNYC succeeds in bringing even half the tech business to New York that it has brought to Silicon Valley, it could overtake Harvard reputationally as the premiere institution of higher learning in the world.
    And I say this as one who loves the Palo Alto campus and would never want anything that might detract from it. StanfordNYC will help bring StanfordPaloAlto to the forefront of this nation’s consciousness, and help Stanford — the one and only Stanford — turn Harvard into what we from Stanford have always considered Harvard: the Stanford of the East! : )
    Go Cardinal! Go StanfordNYC!

  • Hug

    I was skeptical at first about this New York campus for Stanford, fearing it could divert resources away from its Palo Alto campus. But I’m now convinced that it will actually generate more financial support for Stanford by substantially increasing Stanford’s donor base to include rich New Yorkers, and business interests that would otherwise never donate to Stanford.
    And Stanford students would have access to MORE, not less faculty, by gaining access (by easy videoconference) to a greater number of star professors who join a StanfordNYC faculty. And what an opportunity for Stanford Palo Alto students to spend a quarter or two in New York!
    Finally, it seems to me that the East coast bias against anything not Harvard, Yale, or Princeton will be hardpressed to ignore a Stanford University smack dab in the middle of New York City, when it spawns the next Google, Yahoo, Nike, Hewlett Packard, or SunMicrosystems. As a current Stanford undergrad who loves the Palo Alto campus, I’m rooting for StanfordNYC!
    All Right Now!
    As a current Stanford student who lov

  • Guest

    As a stanford grad and nyc resident, I am ashamed that a student would be so short sighted. The opportunity for both students and the school is huge and that endowment he references could double in size if executed correctly. He is thinking very selfishly and ignorantly. Stanford is known for risk taking and hoping to change the world. Its proposal for NYC embodies that. I hope he is just a loud minority. The stanford community in NYC is thrilled at the prospect of this.

    Mr. Savitsky, as you fight for your small piece of the pie for current students (the endowment), Hennessy is looking for ways to make it bigger to create the next generation technology companies that have a global presence and hire a large part of our grads.

  • Uksanyma

    Cornell is the rational choice.