He joined two governors, David A.
Paterson and Andrew M. Cuomo, in pressing the
Legislature to shore up the finances of the State
University of New York, the parent system of Stony
Brook, in part by raising tuition. He made it clear that
he could be very generous if the state acted, and this
year lawmakers made the kinds of changes he sought.
On Wednesday, Mr. Simons, 73, and his
wife, Marilyn, will announce the biggest gift by far in
SUNY’s history, $150 million to Stony Brook. It is the
sixth largest donation ever made to an American public
university, according to The Chronicle of Higher
Education, and is twice as large as the previous record
for a gift to a public university in New York —
the $60 million that
the Simonses’ foundation gave to Stony Brook in 2008.
Most of the money will go to research in
medical sciences, including the construction of a life
sciences building and the creation of a neurosciences
institute and a center for biological imaging, as well
as to the study of cancer and infectious diseases.
Other portions of the gift will help pay
for 35 new endowed professorships, and will create 40
fellowships for graduate students.
Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, president of Stony
Brook, said that the donation, to be given over seven
years, was more than triple the amount the university
typically raised from all donors in a year. The
university is 54 years old, he said, but “this is our
Like most of the nation’s public
universities, SUNY has faced declining state support,
but unlike most of them, SUNY cannot compensate by
raising tuition. In New York, the Legislature sets
tuition at state universities, and for years it has
resisted the rapid increases seen around the country.
That made SUNY a bargain, but it also
squeezed the university’s budget, resulting in fewer
class offerings, larger class sizes and inadequate
facilities. Administrators worried aloud that the system
would fall behind its peers.
“There was no point to continue to
support an institution that the state was backing away
from,” Mr. Simons said in an interview at the Simons
Foundation’s offices near Madison Square in Manhattan.
“Inexpensive access to mediocrity is not doing anyone
such a favor.”
This year, the Legislature and Mr. Cuomo enacted
a law that
allowed SUNY and the City University of New York to
raise tuition by $300 a year for five years and also
committed the state to maintaining its support for the
universities. Full-time, in-state tuition at SUNY is set
to climb to $6,170 in 2014-15, up from $4,970 last year,
and for the first time, the system’s four main research
campuses — Stony Brook, Binghamton, Albany and Buffalo —
can also charge somewhat more than its smaller
universities to out-of-state students.
Dr. Stanley said the Simons gift was
being tailored to the areas in which Stony Brook lags
noticeably behind the most prestigious public
universities around the country: the student-to-faculty
ratio, the number of endowed professorships and the life
“We want to be a top-25 research
university,” he said. “There’s no reason why New York
shouldn’t have that kind of flagship public university.”
Public universities generally raise far
less money from donors than private universities do, but
Mr. Simons said he saw support for public schools as
vital, “especially in these days when private
universities are so unbelievably expensive.” As for
Stony Brook, he said, “We have a warm spot in our hearts
for that particular institution.”
Marilyn Simons, the president of their
foundation, went to Stony Brook as an undergraduate and
received a doctorate in economics there. Mr. Simons, who
earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from M.I.T.
and a Ph.D., also in mathematics, from the University of
California, Berkeley, was appointed chairman of Stony
Brook’s math department in 1968.
But in 1978, he left academia for
finance, becoming one of the first highly successful
“quants” — quantitative analysts who use sophisticated
math to guide investments. In 1982, he founded Renaissance
Technologies, a hedge fund firm; though he stepped
down as chief executive two years ago, he remains
In October, Forbes magazine estimated his
worth at $10.6 billion, making him the 30th wealthiest
person in the country.
Now semi-retired, he spends more time on
“It is fun,” he said, “but it’s not as
much fun as it seems like it would be, since we have to
say no a lot.”