Israeli tech school’s president says center can be 'half aliyah' for expat faculty.
New York’s planned Innovation Institute jointly run by Cornell University and Israel’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has met more than half its fundraising goal thanks to a $133 million donation from Irwin Jacobs, a founder of Qualcomm, and his wife, Joan.
The gift was announced Monday and will be divided equally between Cornell University and the New York-based American Technion Society, which supports the Institute in Haifa, Israel.
The institute to open on Roosevelt Island in 2017 will now be called the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute for Innovation.
“This provides us with enormous encouragement and support,” Technion President Peretz Lavie told The Jewish Week during a visit to New York.
“I see [the gift] as a launching pad for the program that will ensure that we start off on the right foot.”
The new institute is the result of a winning proposal by the two colleges in a process initiated by the Bloomberg administration to create a state-of-the-art applied science and technology academy to bolster New York’s credentials as a global high-tech center.
The city has committed $100 million to the project. Classes are already underway for a small number of engineering and information science graduate students in temporary space at Google’s East Coast headquarters in Chelsea. This fall, the institute will launch a program for Postdoctoral Innovation Fellows to tap the entrepreneurial network of Cornell Tech and the proximity to New York City-based markets. The goal is to teach innovators how to quickly profit from their work.
Lavie noted that both Irwin and Joan Jacobs are Cornell alumni and major Technion donors. In 2010, the couple donated $26 million to found the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Graduate School at the university’s Haifa campus. At Cornell, they also established the Irwin M. and Joan K. Jacobs Scholars and Fellows Programs and the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Professorship in the College of Engineering, as well as the Joan Klein Jacobs Cornell Tradition Fellowship in the College of Human Ecology.
A New Bedford, Mass., native and former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Irwin Jacobs founded a company in 1966 to create satellite encryption devices, Linkabit, and in 1988 co-founded semiconductor giant Qualcomm with Andrew Viterbi. Last month Forbes magazibe estimated Jacobs’ net worth at $1.55 billion. Early last year he stepped down as chairman of Qualcomm, turning the reins over to his son, Paul.
The Jewish Week spoke to Lavie at Google headquarters prior to a press conference announcing the gift at City Hall with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Technion president said Jacobs’ donation won’t be used for construction of the campus, which isn’t scheduled for completion until 2037, but for “everything from recruitment to infrastructure to technical, administration supporting students and postdocs.” Lavie said that the overall goal of the current fundraising campaign “will probably be around $200 million.”
In recruiting faculty for the institute, Lavie said he will focus on Israeli academics who have lived in the United States for “at least 15 to 20 years.” He said the Haifa-on-the-East-River campus will allow those expatriates to make “half-aliyah” by working under Israeli auspices.
"We have a core of Israelis in the information techniology field who are some of the leading resarchers in the U.S. and if we are able to attract them to New York we will have here a commuity that is very close to Israel and Technion," he said.
Some Israeli universities have expressed concern about the so-called “brain drain” of academics who travel abroad because they can’t find top teaching positions in their field at home. Lavie said the Technion Cornell Institute could eventually encourage some to return to Israel.
“We are not going to send Technion faculty here on a permanent basis — just for special assignments, sabbaticals, summer courses, maybe one or two years. We are not going to have brain drain, the way it is perceived. Conversely, we hope to attract Israelis to New York as a final step to get them back to Israel.”
Lavie also said the Institute would serve as a “bridgehead” for Israeli companies based at home or in New York to better establish themselves here. "According to a recent survey of 2000 startup companies, 10 percent are based in Israeli companies' technology," he said. "What we would like to do is form a friendly territory and make them involved in educational programs, so [the Instititute] will not only be a base for Israelis in the U.S. but also for Israeli companies in the U.S.
“I believe in 20 years there will be a Silicon Valley [in California], Silicon Wadi [on Israel’s coastal plain] and Silicon Island [in New York.]”
Asked about international efforts to boycott Israeli universities and academics — one group formed in New York to try to block the Cornell Technion Institute — because of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians, Lavie said, “I don’t see it having any impact. Don’t confuse them with facts They have an opinion no matter what, they will stick to it..”
He said that close to 20 percent of Technion students are Israeli Arabs, double the percentage of a decade ago, and that their dropout rate had fallen to 11 percent from 45 percent in that time. He said there are no Palestinian students, however, because those students are not free to travel to Haifa.
“Technion is a microcosm,” he said. “You see shoulder to shoulder Arabs, Christians and Druse and ultra-Orthodox Jews, religious Jews and secular Jews living together. I wish it would be copied in other places."
Also present at City Hall to announce the gift was Cornell President David J. Skorton.
“This transformative gift will support the distinctive international partnership between Cornell and the Technion that is already creating a new model of graduate tech education in New York City,” he said.
Bloomberg said the Instititute "will ... serve as a bridge between Israel and the USA and Haifa and New York. "