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    James Simons donates $150 million to Stony Brook University

    New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signs a check for $35 million from the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant application for Stony Brook on Dec. 14, the same day James Simons announced he was donating $150 million to the university.

    Marilyn Simons’s father once laid bricks on the Stony Brook campus, and now, decades later, she and her husband James Simons, a hedge fund manager and former chairman of the mathematics department, are laying the foundation for a new future at Stony Brook University themselves.

    The two announced on Dec. 14, with President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. and the attendance of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, that they will be donating $150 million to the university at a press conference this morning.

    “I had said to myself and Marilyn that we would make this kind of gift – a very substantial gift – but only if we could feel the underpinnings were under place and that the university could grow,” Simons said to an audience of legislators, Stony Brook faculty and students, among others.

    The donation was seen to some as a gift, but according to Cuomo, it is an investment.

    “Jim is not in the gift business, he’s in the investment business,” Cuomo said.

    “He places his money in places that are going to reap dividends. And he is investing in Stony Brook. Before he placed his investment, he said he wanted to make sure there was a financial plan and that Stony Brook was going to reap dividends.”

    The donation, the largest one for Stony Brook in history and one of the top 10 gifts ever to a public university, comes with a promise  on both ends. Simons promised the $150 million if Stony Brook had initiatives to show a turn-around for the money.

    Initiatives include the construction of a Medical and Research Translation building on the Health Sciences campus, which will have research and care for health issues such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and autism. The 250,000-square-foot facility will also have a Neurosciences Institute and a Center for Biological Imaging, and will create up to 1,200 direct and indirect construction and research jobs.

    The Simons donation will allocate $50 million to the completion of the MART building, and $35 million will be provided in capital challenge grant funds from Cuomo’s NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant application. The NYSUNY 2020 plan is designed to launch economic development partnerships with Long Island regional industries.

    The investment will also include 35 professorships across campus, as well as fellowships and merit-based scholarships for undergraduates.

    “This gift represents a milestone moment,” Stanley said. “It will provide infinite possibilities.”

    Research is a top priority, however.

    “We’re a very good school. The students that we have are terrific, but we haven’t been living up to our potential for research,” Dean of the School of Medicine Kenneth Kaushansky said. “We haven’t been living up to our potential to interacting with the community. And this will allow us to do that. It will allow us to build facilities that will really allow us to focus.”

    The donation, in the long-run, will attract scientists and clinicians. While grants provided by institutions such as the National Institutes of Health are used, they are getting more and more difficult to be provided, Kaushansky said.

    “We are going to have the infrastructure to make those grants successful, but now, with the philanthropic support, we’ll be able to attract the world’s best scientists here, the world’s best educators here and the world’s best clinicians here,” Kaushansky said. The money will allow the university’s research facilities to create tools that these scientists would want to use.

    Medical students will be able to use the products provided by the donation directly.

    “The research opportunities will give us more options when pursuing our degree,” said Eric Lemmon, an MD/Ph.D. second-year medical student at Stony Brook.

    And while the Medical Center has top line technology as it is, he said, this will keep up with the changes that the field always faces and update accordingly.

    “Science for science’s sake is fine,” Kaushansky said. “But science for people’s sake is even better, and that’s what this gift is about.”

    Simons, who came to Stony Brook as chairman of the mathematics department in 1968, is an esteemed former faculty member still, as was made evident through the number of standing ovations he received throughout the conference. Even after he left the university, he said he “kept my eye on Stony Brook.”

    When the state’s finances began to suffer during David Paterson’s time as governor, Simons wanted to find a way to help. He tried to push legislature, along with others, that would help SUNY.

    “We came pretty close – it felt close — but the governor passed the budget and the SUNY plan was not in it,” Simons said. “When Governor Cuomo came into office, we wanted them to put the SUNY plan in it, and he very wisely said no. He said he would deal with this afterwards, and he did.”

    Simons is the founder of a company called Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund management company that owns one of the most successful hedge funds in the country and is based in East Setauket. The way he ran it was by being closed off to outsiders of the company, but having a strong sense of teamwork within.

    With the donation of $150 million, Stony Brook will have to continue fostering the environment that is open to the public and serves the public.

    “Renaissance is a company that tries to make money through clever means,” such as algorithms, he said when asked after the press conference about the environments of Renaissance Technologies and Stony Brook University. “We don’t want to share those with the general public.”

    “That’s a company. This is a university,” he continued, “and a university should be wide open, inside and outside.” When asked if he thinks Stony Brook does that, he said yes.

    The donation, Stanley said, will energize alumni to give back, with $1 million matched in gifts.

    “It’s never been a better time to invest in Stony Br­­ook,” Stanley said.

    But, according to Cuomo, there was another reason it came at a good time.

    “I was doing my list for Santa,” he said.

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