Stony Brook University’s former Math Department chair is making history.
Jim Simons, with his wife Marilyn and through the Simons Foundation, is giving the largest ever unrestricted gift of $500 million to the university’s endowment.
The donation, which the Simons Foundation will provide in installments over the next seven years, will more than double the endowment for the SUNY flagship school.
As a part of a program Governor Kathy Hochul (D) created last year, New York State will provide a one-to-two endowment match while the school, with support from the Simons Foundation, reaches out to other donors for additional support.
SBU expects the gift to total about $1 billion.
“Today is indeed a historic day for Stony Brook University,” President Maurie McInnis said during a press conference at the Simons Foundation headquarters in Manhattan on June 1. “I cannot overestimate the tremendous impact” the gift will have.
The university anticipates using the gift, named the Simons Infinity Investment, for student scholarships for a diverse student body, endowed professorships, research initiatives, development of new academic fields and clinical care.
McInnis, who is the sixth president of SBU, suggested this kind of support helped create and shape some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, including Harvard and Yale.
Looking at how they started, “you’ll find that they were bolstered by generous supporters who were ambitious and wise enough to see the potential of the institutions and invest in the future,” McInnis said at the press conference. “Because of those supporters, look where they are now. That is the trajectory we are on,” thanks to the support from Jim and Marilyn Simons and the foundation president, David Spergel.
McInnis believes the funds will help make the university a place where every student meets their potential, thanks to the support and the “deep sense of belonging in every corner of campus.”
The funds would also help ensure that researchers have access to the “best labs and equipment” so they can “chase the next discovery” and where learners will come to the university because they “know they have the resources they need to make a difference.”
History of giving
The Simons family has a long history of giving back to the university, which was so important in their lives.
Starting with a much more humble gift of $750 in 1983, the Simons family, with this gift and other recent commitments, have pledged $1.2 billion to a university that Gov. Hochul declared a flagship of the state university system in 2022.
“I’m so happy to be here today, to be able to give back to Stony Brook, which has given so much to me,” Marilyn Simons said at the press conference.
When she started as a student at Stony Brook, Marilyn said her father was a subcontractor who, along with her brother and cousin, did some of the brickwork at university buildings.
In addition to earning her bachelor’s at Stony Brook, Marilyn Simons also earned her Ph.D.
“I’m grateful to Stony Brook for all it’s given me,” she said. “I hope many others will invest along with us.”
Jim Simons became chairman of the Math Department when he was 30. He hired 10 faculty in his first year and the same number in his second.
When Hochul stood up to speak, Simons interrupted her.
“I’ve known” all six presidents of Stony Brook, the former Math Department chair said. McInnis “is the best.”
Hochul appreciated the direction and vision of SBU’s leadership, recognizing the sizeable financial commitment the state would now have to meet.
When she came up with the endowment idea, “I didn’t realize it was going to be so expensive for me,” Hochul laughed. If that inspired the Simons Foundation to come forward, “it was worth it.”
A public institution like Stony Brook “has no limits right now,” Hochul added. “I guarantee across the world, they’ve all heard of Stony Brook right now.”
A winning streak
The $500 million gift from the Simons Foundation continues a winning streak, making 2023 a memorable and landmark year for the university.
A few weeks ago, Stony Brook, with a $100 million commitment from the Simons Foundation, won the state’s contest to turn Governors Island into a center for climate science called the New York Climate Exchange. [See story, “SBU will develop $700M climate center on Governors Island,” April 26, TBR News Media website.]
The center, which will cost $700 million to construct and is expected to open in 2028, will house research laboratories, host community discussions and train 6,000 people per year to work in green energy jobs.
SBU has “shown that it has the knowledge, the authority and the boldness to bring together the most eminent institutions to address the world’s leading challenges,” McInnis said.