Simons Donation To University Comes At A Price

Jul 12 2010 | 2:08pm ET

Renaissance Technologies founder James Simons served as chairman of the State University of New York at Stony Brook’s math department before starting the hedge fund that’s made him a billionaire many times over. He’s since become the biggest donor in the school’s history, giving in excess of $60 million.

Simons retired earlier this year from his firm—which is based just down the road from the Long Island school in East Setauket—but he has a new hobby: lobbying. He’s pushing for New York state legislators to give the 64 campuses that make up the SUNY system the power to raise tuition without approval from the legislature and the enter into partnerships with private firms, like his own, The New York Times reports. And if they do, he’s prepared to give Stony Brook a whopping $150 million.

“We’re not prepared at the moment to state any particular number, but it will be an attractive gift,” Simons told the Times. “Over time, it could become an even more attractive gift.”

Simons is pushing legislative leaders—he has spoken to both Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the state Assembly, and John Sampson, the Democratic leader in the state Senate—to move forward with the SUNY plan, which was proposed by Gov. David Paterson. In the spring, he and Stony Brook’s new president went to Albany to talk to legislators about the merits of the plan.

Simons believes the change is necessary to recruit more private donors to public universities in New York, who might be scared off by their reliance on the state’s notorious budgeting process.

“Simply plugging gaps is not a good pitch for any institution,” Simons said. “Going forward, what we would give, and what others would give, would very much depend on this bill passing, or some other miracle.”

But the strings-attached approach to Simons’ gift has rankled some lawmakers, especially in the Assembly, where the proposal was already unpopular.

“I don’t think it’s out of bounds for someone to say, ‘I want to make a really strong commitment,’” Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, an opponent of the plan, told the Times. “But we’re not supposed to be considering legislation on the basis of what could be viewed as some quid pro quo.”


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