The naming of Stony Brook University’s medical school as Renaissance School of Medicine, honoring $500 million in philanthropy over more than three decades from current and former employees of investment firm Renaissance Technologies, is awaiting State University of New York approval.
But community activists, some student political groups and alumni are questioning whether the university should name its medical school after a company whose chief executive, Robert Mercer, has been a prominent backer of conservative political causes. Mercer, of Head of the Harbor, announced last week that he is leaving the firm.
A resolution requesting the name change was approved at the last meeting of the Stony Brook University Council, the 10-member oversight and advisory board to the campus. Newsday obtained a copy of the resolution Thursday.
It cited the company’s workers as having been “exceptionally involved in the growth of Stony Brook University and Stony Brook Medicine” since 1982.
Kevin Law, chairman of the Stony Brook University Council and president of the Long Island Association, a business development group, said the council was “trying to do what’s in the best interest of the school.”
“We don’t make decisions based on partisan points of view,” he said in an interview Thursday. “This naming is about more than any one individual or employee at Renaissance. It’s about the more than 100 employees and their families at Renaissance who have been very generous to the university over the years.”
Renaissance Technologies LLC, based in East Setauket, was founded by former Stony Brook University mathematics department chairman James Simons and reportedly is the highest-grossing hedge fund in the world.
Simons and his wife, Marilyn, donated $150 million to the university in 2011. At the time, it was the largest single donation ever given to a public university and included an initiative to encourage matching gifts. Simons retired from the company in 2010.
About 110 former and current Renaissance employees have donated $500 million to the university over the last 35 years, according to the resolution.
“The funds have benefited graduate students, undergraduate students, research, facilities — everything across the campus,” Dexter A. Bailey Jr., senior vice president for advancement, told the council at the Oct. 2 meeting on Stony Brook’s Southampton campus. Bailey also is executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm.
The Stony Brook University Council meets four times a year. Its 10 members are appointed to seven-year terms by the governor. One student member is elected in alternating years from among the campus’ undergraduate and graduate students.
Karen Wishnia, an art history graduate student, is the current student representative. Wishnia, who cast the only dissenting vote, said she did not want the medical school’s name to be associated with Mercer.
“His political views are antithetical to the mission of Stony Brook University,” Wishnia told Newsday. “I’ve definitely heard from students and residents who are against this resolution, and there is dismay among the alumni of the medical school.”
Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, are prominent Republican donors who have given millions to political action committees to fund candidates in congressional races nationally and in some local campaigns. They have been linked to the funding of the Breitbart News website and the nationalist movement.
SBU has a total enrollment of about 25,000 students. The medical school has about 500 students. Any naming opportunities related to gifts of $1 million or more on a campus in the state university system require the approval of the SUNY chancellor and the SUNY board of trustees, according to state guidelines.
SUNY officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. SUNY trustees are scheduled to meet next week.
A request for comment from the press office at Cambridge Analytica, the data firm created by Robert Mercer with offices in Manhattan, Washington, D.C. and London, was not returned Thursday.
Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident who is a core member of the North Country Peace Group, a local activist organization, said she is against the renaming of the medical school. The group has held protests for years outside the entrance to the Renaissance Technologies complex on Route 25A.
Gordon said she opposes any local association with Mercer, Breitbart or the alt-right movement.