CUNY Receives Record $75M Donation from Billionaires Marilyn and Jim Simons

The funds, which constitute the largest gift ever given to New York City’s public university, will help support the CUNY system's contribution to the Empire A.I. project.

Grand building pictured against blue sky with American flag waving on top
CUNY’s City College of New York. VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The City University of New York is set to receive the largest donation in its 63-year history: a $75 million gift from the Simons Foundation, the private foundation of billionaire investor Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn.

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“We are transforming the university to meet the needs of the future, and to meet the needs of the city and the state that we can so proudly serve—and we cannot do that alone,” said Félix Matos Rodríguez, CUNY Chancellor, while announcing the donation today (Jan. 17). Two-thirds of the gift is earmarked for computational science initiatives at the university system, while the remaining $25 million will support CUNY’s participation in an A.I. project proposed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul earlier this month.

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Empire A.I. will create a consortium of seven New York universities and research facilities to create, launch and utilize an A.I. computing center in Upstate New York. “The investment by the Simons Foundation will allow us here at CUNY to leverage the computational facility that Empire A.I. will soon provide,” said Joshua Brumberg, CUNY Graduate Center’s interim president, in a statement. “This will allow New York City and CUNY to compete with Silicon Valley in creating new insights and in turn new companies from the ideas generated by this initiative.”

Meanwhile, the additional $50 million will aid the study of computational science at CUNY. The funds will create a new master’s degree program, pay for an initiative director and up to twenty-five new faculty members and support the creation of new workshops, lectures and research experiences. The new program will emphasize building career pathways into the advanced computer industry, which is expected to add more than 300,000 jobs in the next decade, according to Hochul.

Marilyn and Jim Simons’ philanthropic focus

Couple wearing black dress and suit pose in front of blue blackground
Marilyn Simons and Jim Simons attending the IAS Einstein Gala on March 14, 2019. Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

Supporting STEM education is nothing new for the Simons, who since 1994 have been funding research in math and science through their philanthropic foundation. “Jim and Marilyn are both very big believers in public education,” said astrophysicist David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation, in a statement.

The 49th wealthiest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $30.7 billion, Jim Simons earned his fortune in part via Renaissance Technologies, a quantitative trading hedge fund firm he founded in the early 1980s. But before entering the investing world, he had close ties to academia—he previously spent ten years chairing the math department at Long Island’s Stony Brook University.

The school is also Marilyn’s alma mater. In June, it received a staggering $500 million from the Simons Foundation towards its endowment. The donation was not only the most significant in Stony Brook’s history but also one of the largest-ever gifts to an educational institution. The Simons Foundation has additionally been a prominent supporter of research-based initiatives at universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Princeton and the University of California, Berkeley.

CUNY Receives Record $75M Donation from Billionaires Marilyn and Jim Simons