(Bloomberg) -- Renaissance Technologies founder Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn are giving $500 million to Stony Brook University, the public college on Long Island where he taught before leaving to start his wildly profitable hedge fund.
The gift, made by their Simons Foundation, will be the largest unrestricted donation to an institution of higher education in US history, according to a statement Thursday. The funds will go toward Stony Brook’s endowment.
That pool is now expected to grow to $1 billion in contributions, thanks to a New York State matching program and “other philanthropy inspired by this gift,” the foundation said in the statement.
“I just love Stony Brook,” Simons, who met his wife there and is a former chairman of the school’s math department, said during a news conference in Manhattan, where he was joined by Governor Kathy Hochul and university President Maurie McInnis. “It is just a wonderful institution in every respect.”
Stony Brook’s endowment held $370 million before the gift was announced.
“With this investment, Stony Brook will not only be the flagship of the New York State system, but a national flagship,” Simons Foundation President David Spergel said at the news conference. “We will use these funds to make Stony Brook truly a world center.”
The fact that there are no naming rights attached to the Simons Foundation’s gift is unusual and comes at a time when there’s a debate over the merits of attaching the names of very wealthy people to institutions.
Laura Angel-Lalanne, a partner at Schulte Roth & Zabel who works with both high net worth families and nonprofits, said naming rights are a good way for institutions to attract donors and for donors to burnish their legacies.
“It’s almost like there’s a menu,” Angel-Lalanne said. “For X dollars, you have a named professorship. For X dollars, you can have a named space. For X dollars you have a named room or a named program.”
Take Citadel founder Ken Griffin’s recent $300 million gift to Harvard, which came with a newly renamed Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
The Simonses started their foundation in 1994 to advance research in math and basic sciences. Jim Simons’s RenTech employs mathematicians to detect predictive patterns in market data. His net worth is $27.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
In May 2022, the Simons Foundation announced a $56.6 million gift to Stony Brook to help provide scholarships, housing and stipends to 50 new students each year in the STEM fields. In 2019, Marilyn Simons gave a personal gift of $25 million to the economics department to help develop a pipeline for underrepresented minorities and women in economics.
--With assistance from Sophie Alexander.
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