Cornell and Stanford Intensify Competition to ‘Create Jobs’ in New York

Cornell and Stanford have always had a bit of a strained relationship. When in 1891, former California governor Leland Stanford founded the university, he tried to entice Cornell’s then-president, Andrew White to lead it. White passed, but as a token of goodwill, he recommended the man who became Stanford’s first president: Cornell graduate David Starr Jordan – who proceeded to hire away many Cornell faculty members.

The exchange is starting to look like child’s play compared with an ambitious project that’s pushing the esteemed schools’ rivalry to new heights.

The drama began last December, when New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced plans to award one university with roughly 10 acres of land and up to $100 million to develop a top engineering school in New York that will both attract more talent to the city and create more jobs.

The contest, whose winner will be decided by year end, prompted 27 schools to submit a request for proposal to the city’s Economic Development Corp. back in March. But Stanford and Cornell have long seemed the most determined to get the city’s blessing. And, as the deadline for proposals looms (it’s next Friday), both schools are pulling out all the stops.

Cornell’s big news, announced Tuesday, is that it is now partnering with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in its proposal to create the engineering campus. The idea is for the two schools to open a full-scale campus next year, in either leased space or existing Cornell facilities in New York City, then eventually to develop more than 2 million square feet on Roosevelt Island (now the planned site of the campus), to accommodate nearly 2,000 graduate students and 250 faculty.

“Because New York is such a global city, we think this [applied sciences campus] should be a global campus,” says Dan Huttenlocher, the dean of computing and information science at Cornell.

Unfortunately for Cornell, it may not be enough. In fact, Stanford’s own proposal involves moving into New York before the city decides a thing.

Just last week, the school announced that it’s teaming with the City University of New York and the City College of New York in a new engineering and science collaboration that it is calling Stanford-CUNY Collaboration at City College. And it’s “immediately” beginning to create a “demonstration site” on the City College campus where Stanford’s undergraduate curriculum in entrepreneurship and technology management will be taught. (The program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, which conveniently came through for Stanford in July.)

Lisa Lapin, Stanford’s senior communications official, says Stanford has been contemplating the move for much of this year, and that with the National Science Foundation grant, Stanford is excited to bring “innovation learning and tech management” to CUNY’s “population of bright, underrepresented students.” (She adds that “a lot of our faculty” obtained their degrees from CUNY.)

As for whether the school also playing hardball by getting a fast start on the competition, Lapin suggests Stanford is willing to do what it takes.

“Our expertise and our relationships with high tech companies and our ability to transfer technologies directly into the marketplace are strengths that New York doesn’t already have and that we can bring to generate economic growth,” says Lapin. In fact, she says earnestly,  Stanford sees a move into New York as its “responsibility to the country and to the economy.”

Job creation out of Stanford is “pretty unparalleled,” she adds. “And that is what New York is specifically asking for.”