Upon the conclusion of the presentations of President John Hennessy and Professor Bernd Girod on October 13 to the Faculty Senate on the proposed New York City applied sciences and engineering campus, there were at least 15 faculty comments — almost entirely from professors in the School of Humanities and Sciences — regarding the proposed campus. One professor worried that this new campus might harm efforts to sell Stanford as a university committed equally to both liberal arts and STEM fields. Another professor expressed concern that this campus, which will be housed almost entirely by graduate students, might fundamentally shift Stanford’s balance between undergraduate and graduate studies. And one professor noted that if this project were to fail, for whatever reason, Stanford’s prestige would suffer across the board.
While some of these concerns may not be valid, they illustrate that faculty members from all disciplines believe they have a stake in this process. Since it is not practical to have every professor consulted in all major University decisions, a Faculty Senate was formed in 1968 with “the power and responsibility for the academic administration of the University.” The Faculty Senate is also charged with formulating specific policies “on all matters related to teaching and research,” which it does through the use of 11 standing committees. Policies developed by these committees “do not take effect until approved” by the Faculty Senate.
The standing committee that seems most relevant to the New York City proposal is the Planning and Policy Board, which in 2000 was created to be a “keeper of the faculty’s vision for the University.” However, the Planning and Policy Board did not report to the Senate before the University submitted its proposal. Nor were any actions of this committee mentioned in President Hennessy’s presentation. Instead, the only committee referred to was a faculty advisory committee that is not one of the 11 standing committees. This advisory committee consisted of engineers, entrepreneurs and business faculty appointed by School of Engineering Dean Jim Plummer and is charged with formulating the specifics of the proposal. It did not undertake the question of whether the NYC campus was worth pursuing, nor was it in a position to do so given its narrow composition.
One wonders why the model of University governance demonstrated during the ROTC approval process was not followed here. In the ROTC process, an ad-hoc committee — consisting of a diverse group of students, faculty and administrators — was first created to examine whether an ROTC program should return to Stanford. After the Faculty Senate voted in favor of this committee’s recommendation to bring an ROTC program to campus, the President still had to invite the U.S. Military to campus and a subsequent committee still had to work out the details of the program.
But the NYC campus process seems to be operating in reverse. First, a committee was established to contribute to a 600-page report detailing the proposed campus. President Hennessy then submitted this proposal to New York City. However, it seems that the question of whether Stanford should pursue this idea has yet to be appropriately examined. Faculty members were surveyed on whether they supported the idea, but those surveyed were exclusively in the fields that would be a part of the new campus. To be fair, President Hennessy noted in the presentation that this process “is moving much faster than would be ideal in an academic planning cycle.” However, given that a 600-page proposal was developed in the three months after Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his formal request, it is hard to believe that another committee could not have worked concurrently in that time frame to evaluate whether Stanford should pursue this campus.
One could argue that the Planning and Policy Board can wait until after Mayor Bloomberg has made his final selection to report to the Faculty Senate. But by that time, the prospect of a New York Campus will likely have gathered irreversible momentum; negotiations with the city, for instance, are planned to commence before a winner is even announced. Should Stanford be approved, it would be hard to imagine the Planning and Policy Board, or any other committee, opposing the development of the proposed campus, especially considering the strong ties President Hennessy has with this particular project and the more than $1 million and innumerable hours already spent in preparation. Should Stanford be selected, it will likely be too late for a proper examination of whether Stanford should have pursued the project. While we lean towards support of the idea of an applied sciences and engineering campus in New York City, it is reasonable to question the decision making process that produced the application.