New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement in December that Cornell University would build an engineering campus on the city’s Roosevelt Island not only mirrors Yale’s acquisition of West Campus in 2007 — it marks the growing recognition that universities require large amounts of space for innovative science research.
The construction of new science campuses may soon become more common at universities since it has been shown to bolster faculty recruiting and spur local economic growth, University President Richard Levin said. While both Cornell and Yale officials said they hope their science campuses will generate local technology “hubs,” University administrators added they do not expect Cornell’s new campus to significantly affect Yale’s own recruiting.
“We want to create a real hub of scientific activity around New Haven,” Levin said. “A lot of the new companies that have been formed in this region have been science-based companies that have come out of Yale.”
Cornell’s new campus, which will be financed by New York City, Cornell and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, will cost over $2 billion to build, according to the New York Times. In contrast, Yale purchased 136 acres from Bayer Pharmaceuticals in 2007 for $107 million to form West Campus — a deal that Levin has called the “deal of the century.”
Several other universities have added science campuses in recent years, such as the University of Michigan, which bought a former pharmaceutical campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. in 2008, Levin said. Harvard had planned to construct a scientific campus in neighboring Allston, Mass. before the economic recession struck in 2008, he added.
Science buildings become obsolete more quickly than conventional buildings, Levin said, and researchers need large amounts of space.
“Scientists work with big research groups at first rates institutions, so you need a lot of space to do first class science,” Levin said.
Plans for the Cornell campus began when Bloomberg announced a bidding competition between universities for a land grant institution dedicated to engineering and technology. Stanford University was also considered a frontrunner until Cornell received a $350 million donation from a Cornell alumnus in December, according to the New York Times.
Ronald Ehrenberg, director of Cornell’s Higher Education Research Institute, said in an email that the new campus would connect university researchers to venture capitalists and enable Cornell to recruit top scientists who want to live in or near New York City.
At Yale, administrators have already noticed the power of West Campus to attract talented faculty members.
“There are faculty here now who are only here because of West Campus,” Timothy O’Connor, associate provost for science and technology, said.
Administrators at Yale said the new campus at Cornell would not likely hamper Yale’s recruiting of science and engineering faculty. Tobias Walther, principal investigator of a cell biology lab at West Campus, said in an email that West Campus’ strong research environment and extensive facilities “[put] us in a strong position for recruitment.”
“One more player, in New York or elsewhere, will not change the playing field substantially,” Walther said.
While West Campus currently has a “tilt” towards biological sciences, according to Kyle Vanderlick, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Cornell’s new campus will focus on engineering and computer science. Still, she added that about half of the institutes at West Campus include engineering faculty and graduate students.
Cornell’s new campus will be located on Roosevelt Island in New York City.