Will The Gift To Stony Brook Trickle Down?

Someone has just donated the sixth largest sum of money ever to an American public university, and it has been made to Stony Brook University here on the East End. The amount involved is $150 million, the largest sum ever donated to Stony Brook and it has been donated by James Simons and his wife Marilyn. Simons is the 30th wealthiest man in America according to Forbes (at $10.6 billion). The money will be used in large part for the creation of a new life science building on the Health Sciences campus in Stony Brook. The building will be called the Medical and Research Translation building. Other funding from this grant will provide for 35 new professors and 40 new fellowships for graduate students. There will be funding for many other things too, including a hoped-for addition of 400 top-drawer, new students.

Before going on to a discussion of Southampton College, which Stony Brook University owns, it might be a good idea to put this grant, big as it is, in perspective. The annual all-funds budget for Stony Brook University this year is about $2 billion. About $320 million of this, the second-largest share after the Hospital Income Fund, comes from the state. The rest comes from tuitions and donations and other sources. So yes, this is huge, but it has to be seen for what it is.

Since 2008 when the big downturn in the economy hit, Stony Brook University has been on a tear to cut down on its budget. It unceremoniously shut down almost all activities at the Southampton College. Many of the buildings are now closed. But all remain in excellent condition awaiting a new upturn. It does not seem likely that this will either be that upturn, or funding that would dramatically affect Southampton.

James Simons, who is 73, got a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics years ago at M.I.T. and then a Doctorate in Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. About six years after graduation in California he was hired to run the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook. His wife Marilyn was a student at Stony Brook. She got an undergraduate degree here and then a doctorate in Economics here.  Dr. and Dr. Simon have made their lives together. And together they have a great fondness and great memories of their time at Stony Brook University.

In 1978, Simons left the academic world to enter the world of finance. He founded a hedge fund company called Renaissance Technologies in 1982. This fund, steered by Simons, the professor of mathematics has, over the years since then, made billions. Simons was both President and Chairman of the Board until January 1, 2010 and since then, now semi-retired, continues on as Chairman. He keeps a very low profile and he and his wife are very active in charitable affairs and in giving back. By the way, he also made the second largest donation to Stony Brook University, which was $60 million, back in 2008.

Stony Brook University is not as old as you might think. It was founded only back in 1957, when the State created what was then known as the State University College on Long Island. It’s first year, in a group of small buildings in Oyster Bay, attracted 148 students.

Open land for a campus was soon thereafter purchased in Stony Brook, and in 1962, the campus was moved there to become the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. From there it has grown enormously. This year 24,103 students matriculated there. It is one of the largest, and one of the best, universities in the country.

Interestingly, in 2001, it was decided to change the cumbersome name of the school, at least in marketing and then, someday, in fact. Milton Glaser, who is behind the iconic “I Love New York” logo, was hired and a new logo was made featuring the words—“Stony Brook.” It’s now known as Stony Brook University.

It might be a good thing at this point to write a bit about the history of Southampton College, which is now under the wing of Stony Brook University. This college too has gone through name changes.

It was originally created in 1963 as a four-year liberal arts college by Long Island University, a private university headquartered in Brooklyn. The school got named the Southampton Campus of LIU. They hired a President to run it, and by 1975, there were about 1,500 students matriculated here.

At that time, the president, Harry Marmion, felt that Southampton Campus was not getting its fair share of the funding available and many necessary improvements to the school were simply not taking place. Pressing his case with the powers that be in Brooklyn, he demanded that the name of the school be changed to Southampton College. In response, the President of LIU, Albert Bush-Brown, declared that Southampton Campus of LIU would henceforth be known as the Southampton Center. And, as a matter of fact, the position of President would be abolished since you can’t have a President for a Center, and a new title made up to lead the Center, which would be Chancellor. Would Marmion like the job? Indeed, Marmion said he would. He hung on and fought fiercely but unsuccessfully on the college’s behalf for the next 12 years, including one time when he said that “Southampton Center” sounded like a shopping center. But in the end, LIU pulled the plug and sold what was then a school in great disrepair to the SUNY system of State Colleges for about $35 million in 2006. Its new name was Stony Brook Southampton, a little pinkie finger of Stony Brook University, or whatever you call it now.

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