Hefty Donation to SUNY Comes With a Catch

Saturday, Jul 10, 2010  |  Updated 1:59 PM EDT
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Hefty Donation to SUNY Comes With a Catch

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Public universities for a price?

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A hedge fund manager is offering to make a large donation to the public college where he once worked as a math professor, but only if New York lawmakers agree to relinquish some control over the state university system.

James Simons is already the most generous donor in the history of the State University at Stony Brook, where he once led the math department.

He wants to give much more — maybe up to $150 million — but only if the Legislature agrees to let each of New York's state universities set its own tuition.

The plan is backed by Gov. David Paterson, but critics fear that if state colleges are allowed to raise tuition as they see fit, access will be limited for poor and middle-class students.

"I don't think it's out of bounds for someone to say, 'I want to make a really strong commitment,'" said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat who opposes the tuition plan. "But we're not supposed to be considering legislation on the basis of what could be viewed as some quid pro quo."

Simons told The New York Times that donors want to give to an institution that they feel has a future. "Simply plugging gaps is not a good pitch for any institution," he said. "Going forward, what we would give, and what others would give, would very much depend on this bill passing, or on some other miracle."

Simons did not disclose the amount of his potential donation but said it would be "an attractive gift." The Times reported that the pledge could total $150 million, citing two people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to Forbes magazine, Simons has amassed a fortune of $8 billion through his hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies.

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