A view of Midtown Manhattan from the 26th floor of Cornell Tech's residential building The House.  Cornell Tech was the University's most recent expansion into New York.

Josh Girsky / Sun Senior Editor

A view of Midtown Manhattan from the 26th floor of Cornell Tech's residential building The House. Cornell Tech was the University's most recent expansion into New York.

May 3, 2018

Committee Recommends Set Up of ‘Fully Operational Urban Campus’ in New York by 2029

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By 2029, Cornell should have a “fully operational urban campus” in New York City that supports year-round undergraduate and graduate programs, a presidential committee said in a  preliminary report  released on Tuesday.

President Martha E. Pollack said on Tuesday that the report from the President’s Visioning Committee on Cornell in New York City was a “bold set of recommendations.”

“I wanted them to be creative, to think expansively and to develop a true vision for our presence in the city a decade from now without the constraints of matching aspirations to budgets or bureaucracy,” Pollack said in an email to the Cornell community.

The president charged the committee last fall with the responsibility of envisioning ways in which Cornell could grow its presence in New York that would “enhance and complement our Ithaca campus.” There is no guarantee that any of the recommendations will be approved by Pollack.

The 11-member committee said that at least 25 percent of faculty and students — approximately 300 to 500 students per semester — should spend some time studying in New York and that there should be plane, helicopter, and other travel options to improve connectivity between the two cities.

Pollack asked the committee  “to be visionary,” the chair of the committee, Prof. Noliwe Rooks, Africana studies, told The Sun in an interview. “Everything is within the realm of possibility. In terms of the price tag,  it was nice to think without that burden to just see what would be best as an option for the University.”

Building a Rural-Urban Footprint

A fully operational urban campus in New York will build upon more than a century of Cornell presence in the city, officials have emphasized over the last year. Weill Cornell Medicine has been a pioneer in research and clinical care since 1898 and the University recently expanded its footprint downstate with the opening of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in fall 2017.

 The University's top officials at the opening of Cornell’s Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City in September 2017.

Louis Baudoin-Laarman / Sun Contributor

The University’s top officials at the opening of Cornell’s Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City in September 2017.

The visioning committee’s report claims that Cornell in NYC would not “duplicate or supplant successful Ithaca-based activities.” Instead, the committee says, it would seek to build the University’s presence in one of the “world’s greatest cities,” while capitalizing on its unique strengths like the “rural-urban footprint” to create cross-college experiences.

The report highlights the creation of combined bachelors and masters degrees as an academic collaboration in which students could graduate with a dual degree after three years in Ithaca and one to two years in New York.

For Cornell in NYC —  which would include both undergraduate and graduate students —  the current programs and topical areas being considered are fashion and technology, the future of work, health equity, rural/urban agriculture and horticulture, urban semester and executive education.

The committee acknowledged concerns about students and faculty  traversing the geographical divide and said there must be a “fluid” connection between the two campuses to foster interdisciplinary educational and research experiences.

“We didn’t start off thinking that people would want fluidity going in both directions,” Rooks said. “But then we realized that the thing that defines Cornell is the campus in Ithaca, and more people [working in the city] just want to feel like they’re a part of Cornell.”

Incremental Progress

The committee, composed of 11 professors who also hold various other positions, sent  a campus survey to 2,685 faculty and staff — about 20 percent of whom responded — and sought input through meetings with department chairs and focus groups. Based on the information collected, they provided recommendations for Cornell’s future over the next decade in one-, five- and 10-year increments.

While the goal of the committee is to increase student involvement in New York, Pollack did not ask the committee to consult students in any part of the process.

“Students were not part of our charge at this point,” Rooks said. “There’s a whole lot more conversation and different stakeholders that will have to get involved.”

Rooks said there would be efforts to collect information from students and alumni before

Prof. Noliwe Rooks, Africana studies, was the chair of the President’s Visioning Committee on Cornell in New York City.

Courtesy of the University

Prof. Noliwe Rooks, Africana studies, was the chair of the President’s Visioning Committee on Cornell in New York City.

the plan moves forward “aggressively.”

Within one year, the committee said Cornell should create a “robust website to collect, amplify, and house the full extent of Cornell’s footprint in New York.” This website would serve as a repository of information on the city and would include contact information, travel resources and potential research and outreach opportunities.

In five years, an extension of this website would be a one-stop “concierge service” and would become the first point of contact for all students, faculty and staff travelling to and from the city.

The faculty and staff members surveyed brought up transportation and housing limitations concerns, and so the committee also recommends that Cornell increase  bus service, specifically encouraging a midnight return trip from New York, and potentially developing a Cornell rideshare or car-share system.

To tackle the housing challenges in the short term, the committee proposed increasing hotel options with Cornell-contracted rates and using Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech student housing.

Within the year, there were also goals set out to publicize the office and classroom space that is now available in 570 Lexington Ave., where the School of Industrial Relations leased 39,000 square feet and Weill Cornell leased roughly 31,000 square feet this February.

The School of Industrial Relations leased 39,000 square feet and Weill Cornell leased roughly 31,000 square feet in 570 Lexington Avenue this February.

Courtesy of Leonard J. DeFrancisci

The School of Industrial Relations leased 39,000 square feet and Weill Cornell leased roughly 31,000 square feet in 570 Lexington Avenue this February.

The Sun previously reported that  the ILR school will occupy the eleventh  and twelfth floors of the 50-story Art Deco skyscraper, while Weill Cornell Medicine will take up the entire ninth floor and some of the 10th floor of the building.

In five years, the committee sees this Midtown space as a potential “urban campus prototype” with dedicated office space, classrooms and a career services unit. Within 10 years, the plan is to set up the School of Professional Studies that leverages this ILR New York city extension to include residential, distance education and part-time programs.

“We see 570 [Lexington Ave] as just a starting point,” Rooks said. “A lot of people didn’t even know that it was available. It’s huge and it’s beautiful, and there’s a 10 year lease on it.”

The committee hopes to, in five years, “dramatically increase visibility, salience and definition of Cornell that is inclusive of New York,” with at least five percent of Cornell students and faculty having an experience in the city, eventually increasing it to 25 percent by the end of the decade.

By 2029, the vision is to have a completely constructed urban campus equipped with dedicated staff, housing, offices, classrooms, labs and performance spaces. At the end of the first year, the committee is also expected to present a more detailed vision for year five and year 10.

Pollack is expected to review the report and inform the Cornell community about the next steps she envisions for this expansion early in the fall semester. It is unclear what she may accept as the committee was, by definition, a “visioning” committee with “no guarantee for the resources to implement the specific vision that arises.”