N.Y.U. and Stanford Bump the Ivies

Which stars burn brightest in the firmament of a high-school senior’s imagination? Surely the answer is Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the Ivy League threesome so often mentioned in one breath as the Holy Trinity of American higher education, trailed slightly by the remaining Ivy luminaries, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn and Cornell. But according to a new poll by The Princeton Review , the Ivies are losing their mythic grip on the nation’s young scholars. When students and their parents were asked to name their “dream college”, Stanford and New York University came in first and second, followed by Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Duke and Columbia.

While the academic community is well aware that a student stands as good a chance of getting a top-notch education at N.Y.U. as he or she does at Harvard, it is notable that this understanding has finally made its way to the public at large. For the past 30 years, N.Y.U. has been steadily moving into the top ranks of the nation’s universities. It has benefited from extraordinary leadership, with a series of innovative presidents who expanded the university’s endowment and built new student housing to attract students from across the country. The current president, John Sexton, is showing great success in attracting leading scholars from across the world.

N.Y.U. has also benefited from New York’s improved quality of life over the past decade. New crime-fighting techniques initiated by Rudolph Giuliani and continued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg have made New York the safest large city in America, a fact not lost on parents. And students who attend N.Y.U. have the world’s greatest cultural institutions a mere subway ride away, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the New York Philharmonic to Broadway. It is no surprise that many students would rather spend four years in Manhattan than in rural hamlets like Hanover, N.H., or bleak cities like New Haven, Conn.

The city, of course, also owes much to N.Y.U. The university’s graduates typically stay here, working in finance, government, journalism or the arts. N.Y.U. is a magnet for talent, and this talent adds to the vitality of the city. And unlike Yale, the school does not gate itself off from the surrounding community, but rather plays an intricate part in the financial and social fabric of Washington Square.

New York University and New York City are involved in a long-term win-win relationship. And the country’s smartest students are catching on.

Is G.E. Still Welching?

Is General Electric about to get another reprieve from cleaning up the million-plus pounds of carcinogenic PCB’s that the company spilled into the Hudson River in years past? Two years ago, those concerned about the health and safety of the Hudson achieved a hard-fought victory when the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered G.E. to dredge a portion of the river. G.E. had waged a massive 10-year publicity and lobbying campaign against federal requests for such a cleanup, as Jack Welch and his colleagues hoped New Yorkers would forget about the toxic polychlorinated biphenyls which lay embedded in the river’s muddy bottom. But New Yorkers didn’t forget, and it seemed that G.E. would finally be forced to be a decent corporate citizen.

But now the federal government has announced that it wants to add an extra year to the planning stage, which means the actual cleanup will not begin until 2006, and won’t be done until 2012. While the E.P.A. and G.E. insist that the company had nothing to do with the new delay, the fact is that G.E. has continually managed to duck its responsibility for the cleanup, and any added delay just plays into G.E.’s agenda. And how seriously can one take the E.P.A.’s claims, when E.P.A. administrator Christine Todd Whitman answers to a President who has shown himself to be recklessly indifferent to environmental concerns?

The E.P.A.’s regional administrator for New York, Jane Kenny, says that the delay is necessary because of the complexity of the project and the need to win over nervous upstate residents. But the current timetable already allots three years to planning and design-asking for a fourth year is outrageous. The time for action is long past. Jack Welch may no longer be at the helm, but his legacy of dodging responsibility apparently lives on.

City Council: Let Kids Eat Paint

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller is a young man with big ambitions-he’s thinking about running for Mayor in 2005. So why is he avoiding an open debate and a vote on a new bill designed to strengthen protections against lead poisoning of children? The bill is supported by more than half the Council’s 51 members, as well as by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Comptroller William Thompson, and the borough presidents of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Child-advocacy groups and tenant associations also stand behind the bill. Nevertheless, Mr. Gifford hasn’t scheduled the bill for a vote-or even a hearing. Several of his colleagues are equally adrift on this issue: Councilman Erik M. Dilan, who represents the impoverished Bushwick section of Brooklyn, is among the leading opponents of the bill, despite the fact that his district reports the highest incidence of new cases of lead poisoning in the city.

Mr. Miller’s curious stubbornness has stalled the bill for a year. And as the public-interest group Common Cause recently noted, he has assigned the bill to the Housing and Buildings Committee over the objections of its sponsors, who have asked that the bill be given to the Health Committee. The Housing and Buildings Committee happens to be responsible for the current lead law, which the new bill would replace, and is thus considered less likely to push for the new measure.

It has been proven that children in poor communities suffer from mental and physical problems as a result of exposure to the paint. The new bill would give parents more power to sue landlords. At the very least, this bill deserves an immediate hearing; the health of thousands of city children may be at stake.

When the city passed its term-limits law in 2000, more than 75 percent of the Council’s old guard was turned out of office. A new crowd came into office, promising something better than politics as usual. But it sounds like some members of the Council’s new generation would feel right at home on the old Council.