Back in April, I tweeted bitterly about the possibility of Stanford invading NYC with a science and engineering campus of its own. The possibility of Stanford coming to NYC has resurfaced with recent developments of a partnership with City College. Since then, my feed has also been abuzz with Columbia affiliates reacting to the news.
As a Columbia alum, I cannot help but feel overly-protective of this city. After all, my school’s full name is “Columbia University in the City of New York”. And as any Columbia student will tell you, we are constantly reminded by professors and administrators of the inherent role New York City plays in our education.
In many ways, Stanford already has the upper hand over Columbia. Before the 2011 US News & World College Rankings, Stanford has historically been considered the better university. (In 2011, Columbia finally broke through with a #4 ranking to Stanford’s #5.) Many attribute part of Silicon Valley’s successes to Stanford’s accomplishments in educating young minds and fostering entrepreneurship. Stanford also has a strong financial edge; its endowment exceeds $16.5 billion, more than double Columbia’s $7.8 billion.
A big (and emotional) part of me thinks, “Really? Can’t you just let us have NYC?” But ultimately, having another university share our city and support the same interests in technology and an intellectual community will come back to serve even Columbia students. Despite skepticism from NYC tech figures such as Chris Dixon, Fred Wilson, and Caterina Fake, Anil Dash makes a strong argument for the correlation between research universities, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
The NYC tech scene continues to heat up, and to fuel this fire, we cannot simply roll up our sleeves and burn our money. At the YCNYC event, Paul Graham gave credit to New Yorkers’ irresistible greed and guts for its rise as a startup hub, but notes that we still lack strong technical expertise. For Graham, the main reason for the large number of NYC tech startups is the unusual case of good unexpected events here outweighing the bad ones. To maintain this kind of supportive environment for entrepreneurs, we need to continue developing talented and imaginative people, and creating opportunities for serendipitous occurences.
Perhaps NYC can someday truly rival the Valley. But it won’t be a reality that Columbia can accomplish on her own.