Stanford’s Hennessy Seeks Support for NYC Engineering Campus

Stanford University, which helped spawn California’s Silicon Valley of computer and electronics companies, is seeking alumni support to open an engineering school in New York City.

John Hennessy, president of the Palo Alto-based school, will visit New York this week to meet with board members such as Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Morgan Stanley, to gather backing for Stanford’s proposal, said Lisa Lapin, a spokeswoman.

Stanford is among at least 27 schools that have expressed interest in an offer from the city’s Economic Development Corp. to provide land and contribute as much as $100 million to create a “world class” engineering school. The project could generate $6 billion in economic activity, create hundreds of companies and spawn 22,000 jobs over the next 35 years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said.

“There is a need for another center that has the same vibrancy the valley has,” said Hennessy, 58, a native New Yorker who founded two technology companies and sits on the boards of Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. “Unless something changes in the U.S., the place likely to make that happen is China, and I think it’s much better that it happen in the U.S.”

Stanford, with an endowment of $13.9 billion as of Aug. 31, 2010, has declined many invitations to build campuses overseas, Hennessy said in a telephone interview Sept. 9. It’s attracted to New York in part because the city “is very different” from California, he said.

Areas to Explore

“There’s a much different focus on style, on arts and on media,” Hennessy said. “It’s a very different environment than we’re in, and it can lead to lots of different areas to explore.”

Jobs in science and engineering make up 3.8 percent of New York’s workforce compared with 6.9 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area and 7.4 percent in Boston, said Seth Pinsky, president of the Economic Development Corp. The high-tech payroll of New York is about half of that in those regions, he said.

After talking to “literally hundreds of people” about what the city could do to diversify its economy beyond Wall Street, the agency concluded it needed to invest in the technology and engineering industries, Pinsky said in a Sept. 9 interview.

The city has offered free sites for a campus at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Governors Island in New York Harbor, on Staten Island and on Roosevelt Island in the East River, according to its request for proposals.

‘Large-Scale’ Project

The mayor’s offer seeks a school “on a large scale” to provide instruction and research in computer science, nanotechnology and electrical engineering, David Skorton, 61, president of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said in a July interview.

Cornell, which will compete for the campus, already has its Weill Cornell Medical College on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where it is expanding, Skorton, a cardiologist, said in an interview yesterday. The university also built a medical college in Doha, Qatar, he said.

“Not a lot of schools” have “experience with building projects in Manhattan” and creating campuses elsewhere, Skorton said.

Other U.S. universities expressing interest include Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and Cooper Union and Columbia University in New York.

Those outside the U.S. that have submitted solo and collaborative ideas include Abo Akademi University of Finland, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Amity University in India.

The city has set an Oct. 28 deadline for universities to submit responses. After a possible round of questions and interviews, a decision will likely come in 2012, said Andrew Brent, a mayoral spokesman.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

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