Imagining Stanford in New York

Photo: Glenn Matsumura

In February, I was privileged to dine with President Barack Obama, along with a small group of Silicon Valley business leaders. In discussions about the nation's economy, the president stressed the need to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology. Stanford—with our history of innovation and entrepreneurship—is well positioned to help meet that challenge. Recently we were presented with an unusual opportunity to do so.

In mid-December, the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced plans to establish an applied sciences and engineering research campus in the city. Mayor Bloomberg said the campus would foster the city's "21st century innovation economy" and invited expressions of interest.

In mid-March, Stanford submitted a preliminary proposal to build a campus for applied science and engineering research and graduate education; it was one of 18 responses by 27 institutions, including Purdue University, Columbia University, New York University, Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon University and several international institutions. Final proposals are due this summer with selection to occur by year's end. Stanford's ambitious plan envisions opening the campus by fall of 2015.

We believe this is an opportunity to team up with a great city, one that shares our vision and ambition for the future. New York is a global leader in commerce, finance, culture and creativity and attracts talented people from around the world. Stanford—with its history of groundbreaking research, its track record in educating entrepreneurs and its extraordinary faculty and students—can leverage its culture and experience to help develop the next "Silicon Valley."

We have the expertise: Our School of Engineering is among the top two in the nation, and our Graduate School of Business was recently ranked first by U.S. News & World Report. We have experience partnering with industry and a history of transferring knowledge to the marketplace. The companies our faculty and alumni have founded employ hundreds of thousands of people and are leaders in their sectors.

We envision a New York City campus that would be tightly integrated with the California campus, with departments spanning two locations and faculty and graduate students selected in an integrated fashion. We would leverage our long experience in distance education, allowing students on both coasts to register for courses taught by faculty in either location. With modern video technology, we see New York and Palo Alto separated by less than one second, rather than 2,500 miles. Our initial phase would include about two dozen faculty and more than 400 graduate students drawn from the business and engineering schools, focused on information technology and entrepreneurship.

More than a century ago, in the face of great criticism and ridicule, the Stanfords risked their wealth to found this university. Leland Stanford responded: "If I thought the university at Palo Alto was going to be only like the others in our country, I should think I had made a mistake to establish a new one. . . ." Jane and Leland Stanford made no mistake. Stanford University is like no other. I believe partnering with New York City offers a similar opportunity to demonstrate what a difference a great university can make and to begin the process of understanding how universities can operate in more than one location, something our colleagues in industry mastered more than a decade ago.

Although we are just at the beginning of a long process, we believe that a partnership between Stanford and New York City has enormous potential to produce a new generation of innovators.

Read more about the initial proposal.

John Hennessy is the former president of Stanford University.