February 6, 2012

A Tech Campus for All Cornellians

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When Mayor Michael Bloomberg accepted the University’s bid to build a technology campus in New York City, the Dec. 19 announcement represented a victory for all Cornellians. But even amid excitement for the newly minted CornellNYC Tech, concerns surfaced among members of the Ithaca campus that resources would be reallocated to Cornell’s new urban hub. The administration maintains that the tech campus will not detract from financing opportunities in Ithaca and will, in fact, enhance the visibility of the main campus. While it is unclear which of these visions is more likely, we can say with certainty that the University must maintain its commitment to the students and faculty of the Ithaca campus.

CornellNYC Tech offers the University an important opportunity to lead the quest for innovation among institutions of higher education. The chance for Cornell to spearhead the mayor’s initiative to make NYC the tech capital of the world is equally appealing. The University articulated these benefits at a public forum on Friday, and we commend the effort to foster an open dialogue with the Cornell community.

Last week, engineering students and faculty witnessed firsthand the impact of Cornell’s shift in focus toward technology. The University’s inaugural Startup Career Fair attracted 30 companies that had previously never visited East Hill. Reports that Cornell plans to partner with other international universities to supplement its collaboration with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology further underscores the potential for Cornell’s tech initiative to elevate the University’s international standing.

Despite these early indications that the tech campus could be a boon for all Cornellians, doubt remains as to whether CornellNYC Tech can attain success without negatively impacting the Ithaca campus. While the administration claims that funding the record $2 billion project will not shift resources from East Hill, we must question whether alumni who previously contributed to the Ithaca campus will redirect their donations to NYC. Similarly, there is no way to know whether the $350 million gift provided specifically for the tech campus by Charles Feeney ’56 could have contributed to improving Ithaca in the absence of the NYC initiative. Feeney has been a consistent donor to the Ithaca campus in the past.

The University’s initiative to increase its standing among institutions of higher education around the world through its partnership with NYC is commendable. However, this success should not come at the expense of the students on Cornell’s Ithaca campus. Thus far, the administration has been adamant that the tech campus will prove beneficial to those studying on East Hill. The University has reaffirmed its commitment to Ithaca through rhetoric. As this project progresses, the administration must transform that rhetoric into action to prove that this high-priced expenditure will truly benefit the entire Cornell community.