Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, has announced a seven-year, $150 million gift from former math department chair James H. Simons and his wife, Marilyn, who received her Ph.D. from the school.
Awarded through the Simons Foundation, the gift surpasses a previous gift of $60 million to the university from the couple and is the largest ever gift to a State University of New York school and the sixth largest to any public American university. According to the foundation, the gift includes a $50 million challenge grant from the foundation to enhance the quality of teaching and scholarship through fellowships and professorships and a personal $100 million gift from the couple in support of the School of Medicine and life sciences research at Stony Brook.
Stony Brook president Samuel L. Stanley told the New York Times that the gift would be used to target areas where the university noticeably lags other prestigious public universities. Specific priorities include improving the university's student-to-faculty ratio, increased support for the medical and life sciences — including construction of a life sciences building and a new neurosciences institute and center for biological imaging — the creation of thirty-five endowed professorships, and forty new fellowships for graduate students.
Like public universities across the country, Stony Brook and other SUNY schools have faced declining state support, resulting in budgetary problems that have resulted in fewer class offerings, larger class sizes, and outdated facilities. To shore up the SUNY system's finances, Simons helped to persuade the New York State legislature to enact a law ensuring that the state will maintain its support for SUNY campuses and allow the schools to raise tuition.
"Inexpensive access to mediocrity is not doing anyone such a favor," Simons told the Times. He went on to say that he considers support for public universities vital, "especially in these days when private universities are so unbelievably expensive. [As for Stony Brook] we have a warm spot in our hearts for that particular institution."