Cornell University has won a $100 million grant from New York City to build an engineering campus on Roosevelt Island, but Columbia could still receive city funds for three applied sciences buildings in Manhattanville.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that he had chosen Cornell as the winner of his competition to bring a top-flight engineering school to NYC. Cornell, which is partnering with Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, beat out three other finalists, including Columbia.
But at a press conference at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center announcing his decision, Bloomberg also said that his office is still negotiating with Columbia and two other finalists.
“We’re eager and hopeful that we’ll be able to find ways for them to realize their proposals,” he said.
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel said that the city should finish evaluating these schools' proposals by January.
“This is the first selection in this initiative of applied sciences, and stay tuned,” Steel said. “We hope to have more to come.”
Columbia's submission to the competition was the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, which would take up 1.1 million square feet and three buildings in the Manhattanville campus expansion. Bloomberg had asked for proposals to build either on Roosevelt Island or Governors Island, or at a site in Brooklyn.
It’s not clear what sort of support the city might provide for Columbia and the other remaining finalists, New York University and Carnegie Mellon University. Bloomberg said the level of support will depend on what these schools need.
“[Cornell's proposal] is clearly what would be the biggest of all of the projects. That doesn’t mean the others won’t be equally as important or equally as impactful,” Bloomberg said.
A Columbia spokesperson issued a statement welcoming Cornell and Technion to the city.
“We have great respect for our engineering colleagues at Cornell and Technion,” the statement read. “We welcome them to New York City, look forward to finding opportunities for collaboration, and wish them success on their important new endeavor.”
The Columbia statement also noted that Columbia submitted its Manhattanville-based proposal knowing that the city was looking to give away land elsewhere.
“Our future is clearly in Manhattanville, where we have made a $6 billion commitment to future growth and to the surrounding Harlem community,” the statement read.
Professors at Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science—which was at the heart of Columbia’s proposal—were not surprised to find out Cornell had won. Several, including chemical engineering professor George Flynn, were optimistic that Columbia engineers would be able to collaborate with those at Cornell.
“I think it’s quite possible that Columbia will get positive spin-offs from this by having more people to collaborate with in the area,” he said. “Once Cornell establishes a presence here, there will be opportunities for scientific interaction … so it might work to Columbia’s advantage."
Flynn added that while he’s disappointed Columbia didn’t win, it was a “tough competition." He praised Cornell’s material science and electronics programs as having been “really front and center” for many years.
Bloomberg called Cornell’s proposal “far and away the boldest and most ambitious” of those received, with more students, faculty, and building space than the other proposals, including Columbia’s. Cornell and Stanford were considered the frontrunners in the competition, although Stanford dropped out last week just before Cornell announced a $350 million dollar gift towards the building of its campus.
“Keep in mind we have some other great engineering schools here, like NYU Poly and Columbia,” Bloomberg said. “And they will benefit from this, because once engineers start coming, other engineers want to do the same thing.”
Civil engineering professor Christian Meyer noted that Cornell’s engineering campus will be smaller than SEAS, and that “only about half” of Columbia’s departments will have to compete with it. But its presence could still have negative consequences for Columbia, he added.
“On the face of it, it doesn’t look good for us, to have an engineering school right here in the city,” he said.
Civil engineering professor Rene Testa said that while he thought Columbia submitted a strong proposal, he was not shocked that Cornell won, especially considering that its medical school is already in Manhattan. In the long run, Testa added, the presence of another engineering school nearby could be beneficial, because Columbia will have to “work harder to maintain its position.”
“There are some difficulties,” he said. “There is more competition for faculty and students, but there’s a tremendous supply not just in New York but around the country and worldwide.”
Graduate student Andrew Kang, president of the Engineering Graduate Student Council, said he was also disappointed but not too upset by the decision.
“Long-term this would have been amazing for the school,” Kang said, adding that “Columbia engineering and the rest of Columbia will be fine.”
“Competition is never a bad thing,” he said. “In terms of their new campus I’d hope it’s more of a collaborative thing than anything else.”
Yasmin Gagne, Margaret Mattes, and Finn Vigeland contributed reporting.