October 17, 2011

Cornell ♥ N.Y.

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Oct. 28 — ten short days from now — marks the submission deadline for proposals for an applied science campus in New York City. That date will end the feverish rush from academic institutions around the country to not only design from scratch an entirely new site and curriculum, but also sell their proposals to the public and the Bloomberg administration. Cornell in particular has invested a tremendous amount of energy in its bid, and has gained significant ground as a result. Though 18 proposals were initially received from 27 different academic institutions, many in the media have set their bets on a two-way race between Cornell and Stanford.

Some background: Feeling that New York City was underperforming as a center for technological innovation and entrepreneurialism, Mayor Bloomberg issued a Request for Proposals to create an applied-sciences campus in the City. Such a campus would, in theory, serve as an intellectual hub for the invention of new technologies, facilitating the formation of new companies and attracting more venture capital into a city typically dominated by the finance industry. As an incentive, the city will offer a large parcel of land (the focus is currently on a 10 acre tract on Roosevelt Island, located off the East side of Manhattan) as well as $100 million in infrastructural improvements.

Free real estate in New York City and $100 million to boot is a pretty hefty carrot for any academic institution. But this proposal has particularly whet the appetites of Cornell and Stanford, both of which hired PR firms on retainer and recruited experienced lobbyists to push their respective proposals. In short, the two have demonstrated a willingness to invest significant resources in the bidding process alone.

Given the University’s recent trends of austerity and the weak economic recovery, spending a hefty sum of money on a risky bid might seem wasteful or inappropriate. I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment. President David Skorton and his administration are absolutely justified in fighting for an applied science campus, and fortunately, it seems as though a vast majority of the Cornell community agrees.

Relative to Stanford, Cornell may appear to be the underdog in this bidding competition. Many have in fact speculated that Bloomberg designed this proposal specifically with Stanford in mind. After all, who could be better to recreate the Silicon Valley in New York than a top-ranked University located in the heart of the valley itself?

I’ll tell you who: Cornell. And here’s why.

No one can deny Stanford’s remarkable legacy of academic excellence and its climate of entrepreneurialism. But Mayor Bloomberg’s goal isn’t simply to give a top-ranked University free real estate for a satellite campus; rather, he wants to quickly build a center for innovation that would remain quintessentially New York, and rapidly become an integral part of both the city’s and state’s climate and economy.

With this in mind, Cornell’s indelible connections with the city provide it a clear advantage. These connections can be traced back well over a century: In 1889, Cornell alumni founded the Cornell Club of New York, a venue for affiliates of the University to gather and network. Nine years later, Cornell established a medical college there, as Ithaca’s population was deemed too small to provide adequate opportunities for direct medical learning. Importantly, Weill Cornell Medical College is located directly across the East River from the proposed site on Roosevelt Island.

Cornell’s reach into the city expanded tremendously over the course of the 20th century. Both ILR and AAP now have satellite sites in the city. On the lower east side, the Operations Research department runs a center for studies in financial engineering. Alumni Affairs and Cornell’s Cooperative Extension also have offices in the city, providing outreach for Cornell alumni and the New York community at large, respectively. Looking at a map, Cornell outposts nearly span the entire length of Manhattan.

It’s not just Cornell offices that have sprouted up across the city; Cornell alumni, too, move there in droves. The greater New York Area is by far the most popular destination for Cornellians, with nearly a quarter of our school’s alumni calling it home.

Of course, if a school’s presence in the City were the sole criterion for selecting the winning bid, Columbia and NYU (both of which also intend to submit proposals) would be more obvious choices. But Cornell is uniquely positioned in that it combines its strong presence in the City with some of the nation’s top engineering and applied science programs — the best in New York, not to mention the Ivy League.

Indeed, Cornell students and alumni have founded a number of incredibly important tech companies, including Priceline, Palm, Qualcomm, Peoplesoft, Workday, Zimride … the list goes on. And bear in mind, many of these ideas germinated at Cornell’s main campus, despite its deep isolation from any major U.S. city. Just imagine what could be accomplished with Cornell students and professors living, working and collaborating in the heart of New York.

Cornell thus offers the potent combination of a strong presence in the city and a tradition of excellence in engineering and entrepreneurialism. But Cornell has one final trump card that makes it a clear choice for Bloomberg’s proposed campus: a community united behind the effort to win.

The S.A. unanimously passed a resolution in support of Cornell’s proposal. Cornell alumni in the city have been working tirelessly to promote the bid. And recently, an online petition gathering support for Cornell has collected upwards of 18,000 signatures (and counting) in less than two weeks.

You won’t see that kind of support at Stanford, where students and faculty alike have questioned the need for the university to divert resources to the opposite end of the country when the Palo Alto campus has proven to be successful enough. According to a recent poll conducted by The Stanford Daily, half of the student body disapproves of their bid, with less than 40 percent expressing support. When it comes to avoiding the sort of divisive politics that hinder the successful growth of a new campus, such numbers don’t bode well.

We are now at a critical juncture. A Cornell-run applied science campus would be, without question, a huge boon to our university. And with bids due in less than a two weeks and a decision expected by the end of the year, it is incumbent upon us to leverage our community’s consensus to show Mayor Bloomberg that Cornell is the right choice. By spreading awareness online, in person or by signing the online petition (for those reading this in print, it can be found at www.change.org — just search “Cornell”), we can demonstrate our community’s deep investment in this effort.

Cornell loves New York. And if we speak loudly enough, New York is sure to love us back.

David Murdter is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at dmurdter@cornellsun.com. Murphy’s Lawyer appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: David Murdter