Stony Brook University’s medical school has been renamed the Renaissance School of Medicine, honoring the more than $500 million in donations from employees of the investment firm Renaissance Technologies, school officials said Wednesday.
The controversial name change was approved last week by the State University of New York Board of Trustees and announced in a message from Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., posted to the school’s website.
SUNY did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.
More than 500 students are enrolled at the Stony Brook School of Medicine, along with an additional more than 750 medical residents and fellows, according to the university.
The name change originally was approved by the university council last fall, eliciting concern from community activists, some student political groups and alumni over the East Setauket-based company’s ties to prominent conservative political backer Robert Mercer. The billionaire from Head of the Harbor announced last November he would step down from his role as co-CEO of Renaissance on Jan. 1, 2018, but remain active on the firm’s research side.
“By sharing their talents, their time and their philanthropic giving over the years, 111 current and former employees of Renaissance, almost all of whom did not graduate from Stony Brook University, have committed to Stony Brook's success and have given generously of their time and treasure to advance the mission of New York's premier public institution of higher education,” Stanley said in an emailed statement. “It is fitting that we name the academic program that has a tremendous impact on so many in recognition of this generosity and vision as the Renaissance School of Medicine."
Mercer and his daughter Rebekah were leading donors for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, and have given millions to political action committees to fund candidates in local and congressional campaigns. Mercer also has been linked to funding the right-wing Breitbart News Network andthe data analysis company Cambridge Analytica.
Renaissance, one of the highest-grossing hedge funds in the world, was founded by James Simons, a former Stony Brook mathematics department chairman.
A call to Renaissance asking for comment from Mercer and Simons was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Myrna Gordon, a member of the local activist organization North Country Peace Group, said she was “really disappointed” with the SUNY board’s approval of the name change. “Money talks,” said the Port Jefferson resident, whose organization for years has protested outside the entrance to the Renaissance Technologies complex on Route 25A.
Nearly a year ago, Gordon said her group sent a petition with 800 signatures to the board in an effort to stop the renaming, with Renaissance’s ties to the Mercers among their top concerns.
“It’s a public institution and we have to stop naming our buildings after politicians, after corporations,” Gordon said. “It’s a state university system.”
The initiative is “not about any one employee at Renaissance,” Dexter Bailey Jr., senior vice president of Stony Brook’s office of university advancement, said in an emailed statement. The decision, he said, is in recognition of the commitment of the company’s current and former employees, almost of all whom did not graduate from the university.
Renaissance employees and their families have donated more than $500 million to the more than 26,250-student university over the past 35 years, according to the university. The funding has supported students, faculty and primarily research in life sciences and medicine, the university said.
“When Marilyn and I were at Stony Brook, we knew that one day Stony Brook could join the ranks of the most elite universities in the country,” Simons said in an emailed statement about himself and his wife, who is a Stony Brook alumna and president of the Simons Foundation. “So when Sam Stanley arrived and he articulated his vision of how the university would achieve that distinction, we knew we wanted to help.”