"He did his job and we did ours," he said.
The billionaire chairman of Renaissance Technologies formally announced at Stony Brook University Wednesday that he and his wife, Marilyn, and the Simons Foundation were making a $150-million gift -- the largest ever to a SUNY campus -- to fund medical research, endow professors and recruit top students to the university.
Soon after, the governor also announced to the standing-room-only crowd a $35-million grant to Stony Brook as part of the state's SUNY 2020 plan, an initiative to revitalize the 64 campuses.
Simons, who personally or through his foundation has given the university more than $300 million over the past 20 years, told the crowd that before he was willing to invest more of his money in Stony Brook's future, he wanted assurances from the governor that the state would also invest in its SUNY campuses.
"I said I would only make a gift if the underpinnings were in place," said Simons, who had been chairman of Stony Brook's mathematics department from 1968 to 1976.
The SUNY 2020 plan, authorized by Cuomo and the state legislature earlier this year as part of the state budget, did just that, he said.
Cuomo said he understood Simons' concern. "Jim is not in the gift business; he's in the investment business," he said referring to Simons' East Setauket hedge fund, which manages more than $15 billion. "He is investing in Stony Brook. He wanted to make sure there was a financial plan in place that was viable."
About $50 million of the Simonses' money, along with the state grant, will go to building an eight-level, 250,000-square-foot Medical and Research Translation building on the Health Sciences campus. The center will have 25 cancer biology-oriented labs, a 30-room cancer clinic, an auditorium and classrooms. There, researchers will focus on cancer, infectious diseases, neurological diseases and advanced medical imaging.
The university estimated the facility will create 1,200 direct and indirect construction jobs as well as several hundred research jobs.
The money also will be used to create 35 endowed professorships across academic disciplines and provide funds for 40 graduate students. Merit-based scholarships also will be allocated for undergraduate students. To encourage others to invest in Stony Brook, the Simonses established a $50-million challenge grant.
Stony Brook president Samuel Stanley called the gift "a milestone moment for this young institution" that he predicted would one day be a top-tier public university.
"How great it is that one of the world's top investors is investing in Stony Brook," he said.
Marilyn Simons, a bricklayer's daughter who grew up in Bay Shore, graduated from Stony Brook and received a doctorate in economics from the school. She fondly recalled her time there.
"Stony Brook has given me so much, and I am so happy to give back," she said. "But this gift means more than just giving back. It means investing in the future, in public education."
The Simonses and the Simons Foundation have been generous donors to Stony Brook. In 2008, they gave $60 million to establish The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics. At the time it was the largest gift to any SUNY institution.
The $35-million state grant comes eight months after Stony Brook presented its SUNY 2020 application, which proposed building a medical research center, adding 245 new faculty and 400 staff, and enrolling an additional 1,500 students.
To help pay for it, Cuomo and legislators approved a multiyear tuition hike. It increases tuition at SUNY campuses 30 percent over five years, from $4,970 to $6,470. It allows SUNY's four research centers, including Stony Brook, to add another $75 fee to tuition to help pay operating costs.