Stanford University abruptly dropped out of the intense international competition to build an innovative science graduate school in New York City, releasing its decision on Friday afternoon. A short time later, its main rival in the contest, Cornell, announced a $350 million gift — the largest in its history — to underwrite its bid.
The twin announcements threw a sharp curve into the contest, leaving Cornell’s $2 billion proposal for Roosevelt Island as the clear front-runner for what is seen as a prime opportunity to help reinvent higher education. The city is expected to select among the four remaining applicants in January, and bestow up to $400 million in land and infrastructure improvements.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed the competition last year to replicate the experience of Stanford or M.I.T. — a top-notch engineering and computer science school whose graduates could seed the region with new high-tech businesses — and with M.I.T. opting not to participate, Stanford was at first seen as the one to beat.
But being a continent away in Palo Alto, Calif., took its toll on Stanford, according to people briefed on the process, who insisted on anonymity to discuss matters they were not authorized to make public. The university, with no experience building in New York, recoiled at meeting terms laid down by the city after its proposal was submitted, while Cornell, with extensive experience in the city — its medical school is in Manhattan — expected such negotiations.