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Unsettling the University-Territory Relationship via Applied Sciences NYC
February 27, 2012 - 10:14pm

The unruly process of ‘innovation’ has long stumped analysts and advocates. Indeed, there is a veritable cottage industry of scholars who work on innovation, innovation systems, innovation networks, and associated phenomena. This agenda intersects with higher education systems, institutions and practices in a variety of ways, including the development of research and advocacy programs regarding university industry linkages, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in R&D, the role of HEIs in city-region development, online education (most recently), and so on.

But how does this agenda intersect with the globalization of higher education and research agenda? Well, in a wide variety of ways, especially given the globalizing nature of economies and societies. Researchers who focus on all of the above phenomena are increasingly grappling with the impact of ‘global pipelines’ guiding flows of people and information between multiple sites; transnational flows of mobile people, technologies, and the like; and multi-sited epistemic communities that produce the jointly authored publications mapped out here. The vast majority of this research, however, deals with grounded HEIs, institutions fixed in place. This, of course, makes sense, for most HEIs are not mobile, and never will be (and indeed should arguably not be).

This said, one of the most fascinating experiments to unsettle the university-territory relationship, with the aim of engendering new forms of unruly innovation, is unfolding in New York City.

Just over a year ago, in December 2010, New York City stirred up interest around the world with the issue of Request for Expressions of Interest seeking “Responses from the Academic World for a Partnership with the City to Create a State-of-the-Art Applied Science Campus.” As the 16 December 2010 press release put it:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel and New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky today announced that the City is seeking responses from a university, applied science organization or related institution to develop and operate an applied sciences research facility in New York City. In order to maintain a diverse and competitive economy, and capture the considerable growth occurring within the science, technology and research fields, the City is looking to strengthen its applied sciences capabilities, particularly in fields which lend themselves to commercialization. The City will make a capital contribution, in addition to possibly providing land and other considerations, commensurate with the respondent’s investment.

In the end 18 responses from a total of 27 HEIs were received, according to this 17 March 2011 press release:

  • Åbo Akadmi University, Finland
  • Amity University, India
  • Carnegie Mellon University with Steiner Studios
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University and the City University of New York
  • The Cooper Union
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Korea
  • New York University, Carnegie Mellon, the City University of New York, the University of Toronto, and IBM
  • The New York Genome Center, with Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, Rockefeller University, and the Jackson Laboratory
  • Purdue University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Stanford University
  • The Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
  • The University of Chicago
  • The University of Warwick, United Kingdom

This lineup of universities is noteworthy for it is the largest ever number of HEIs simultaneously considering the stretching of their institutional infrastructures out across space and into one place (NYC, USA). No other jurisdiction has ever, as far as I know, received such an expression of interest in such a concentrated period of time, highlighting the hold the city has on imaginations worldwide. Prometheus unbound, indeed.

As Mayor Bloomberg noted at the same time:

We were enormously optimistic that this once-in-a-generation opportunity would draw the interest of top caliber universities from New York City, the region and the world, and the number and breadth of responses is as strong an endorsement of the idea as we could have hoped for,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The institutions that responded recognize the historic opportunity this initiative represents – to grow a presence in the world’s most dynamic, creative and globally connected city. For New York City, it’s an opportunity to increase dramatically our potential for economic growth – a game-changer for our economy.

To cut a long story short, these expressions of interest were vetted and used to develop a comprehensive Applied Sciences Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop the applied sciences campus. The RFP, which was issued on 19 July 2011, had a closing date of 28 October 2011.

On 31 October 2011, the City of New York issued another press release noting that the City had received 7 full proposals put together by these 17 HEIs:

  • Amity University (Governor’s Island)
  • Carnegie Mellon University/Steiner Studios (Brooklyn Navy Yard)
  • Columbia University (Manhattanville)
  • Cornell University/Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Roosevelt Island)
  • New York University/University of Toronto/University of Warwick (UK)/The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay/City University of New York and Carnegie Mellon (Downtown Brooklyn)
  • New York Genome Center/Mount Sinai School of Medicine/Rockefeller University/SUNY Stony Brook (Midtown Manhattan)
  • Stanford University/City College of New York (Roosevelt Island)

Each proposal crafted plans to “develop and operate a new or expanded campus in the City in exchange for access to City-owned land and up to $100 million in City capital.”

Interestingly the geographies of these HEIs are less diverse than the lineup noted in relationship to the Dec 2010 response. Clearly the commitment required to harness the direct and indirect resources that would bring such a risky project to life was significant.

By mid-December 2011 a decision was made that one proposal (put together by Cornell University in partnership with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology) would get the formal go-ahead. The image below comes from the proposal, and is supplied courtesy of Cornell University.

While there has been significant coverage of this news story, this 19 December 2011 press release remains the best summary of the proposed project, to date. The official project sites run by Cornell, as well as by the NYCEDC are worth reviewing as well.

During the first two months of 2012 development planning has been fast-tracked and the senior leadership team has been put together. It is also worth noting that discussions are continuing with NYU-led consortium (with the University of Toronto, University of Warwick, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, CUNY, and Carnegie Mellon University) in relationship to a Downtown Brooklyn site, as well as with Carnegie Mellon and Columbia in relationship to two other sites.

I’ve outlined the above stages and provided some links in part so readers of GlobalHigherEd could locate materials about the early development stages of Applied Sciences NYC in one spot. But in doing so, and in grappling with the territorial unsettlings inspired by the draw of the global city of New York, I can’t help but be fascinated by the significance of this experiment a number of levels. From a global higher ed perspective, Applied Sciences NYC is noteworthy because it is generative of:

  • The formation of deep partnerships between universities from different countries, but in a new (third) setting. In so doing, universities have no choice but to forge deep and relatively trusting relations, a requirement and an outcome absent from traditional international partnerships (which are usually struck up for the purpose of forging partnerships, i.e. partnerships in search of legitimizing projects).
  • The creation of a partnership node that can be opened up, at will, to new partners while also serving as a prospective site of engagement between Cornell and Technion’s existing partners universities in the US, Israel, and abroad. This is, indeed, the value of drawing in universities like Technion and Cornell (on this issue see David Skorton’s guest entry ‘A Cornell University response to ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational-ethical dilemma)’' in Global Higher Ed). Thus, the new campus could, in theory, serve as a site of research, teaching, and collaboration more generally, for the many universities that Cornell and Technion trust and respect.
  • The establishment of new research and teaching programs that will have significantly more latitude for configuration given the novelty of the campus, and the mandate associated with the original RFP issued by NYC. In short, some distance from the origin sites of both Cornell and Technion may help both universities break free from established practices and unwritten codes of convention on their main campuses, for good and bad.
  • The ability to design a campus from scratch, which will enable barriers to collaboration to be designed away (well, in theory!).
  • The creation of an institutional space that will allow these two universities, not originally based in the city of New York, to identify and work more intensely with New York-based partners in the public, private, and non-profit worlds. The abundance of international organizations, NGOs, and non-profits in the city of New York cannot help but be a huge resource to these two universities, especially if they are cognizant of the importance of viewing 'innovation' broadly.
  • The creation of physical presence in New York so as to at least have the potential to forge informal relations of trust and interdependency with city-based actors (be they US or foreign). This is, for example, one of the benefits reaped by INSEAD after it established a deep presence in the global city of Singapore in 2001. The unruly processes associated with innovation often take time: they often occur by accident, and serendipity often comes into play. Serendipity is better facilitated, if indeed it can be facilitated, via proximity and territorial co-presence.

These are just a few aspects of the development process that come to mind. While there are many more I could have flagged, I have some World Regions course grading to attend to!

In closing, Applied Sciences NYC is much more significant that even its advocates realize. This is a long-term experiment in reconfiguring the university-territory relationship.  Not all universities can nor should do this, but at least some should. And don’t rush to judgment too quickly, either: as a fascinating article about Bell Labs in yesterday’s New York Times reminds us, ‘true innovation’ takes time, and while revolutions happen fast, they ‘dawn slowly.’

 

 

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