Update: Nov. 26 10 a.m. : This story has been updated to include an additional statement from Samuel L. Stanley Jr.
The Stony Brook School of Medicine has been renamed the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced on Wednesday, Nov. 21.
The new name commemorates Renaissance Technologies, a Long Island hedge fund firm whose employees and families have contributed more than $500 million to the university in nearly 40 years according to SBU alumni newsletter, Stony Brook Matters.
“By sharing 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 wrote in a statement sent by the university’s media relations officer.
The name change has received some pushback due to Renaissance’s ties with local billionaire Robert Mercer, who was one of Donald Trump’s biggest campaign donors in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mercer is a former IBM language recognition specialist and former co-chief executive officer for Renaissance Technologies. He stepped down from his position at the beginning of this year, some time after the name change approval. According to Newsday, he has also provided funding for the right-wing Breitbart News Network and the data analysis company Cambridge Analytica.
It was discovered earlier this year that Cambridge Analytica was guilty of harvesting data from over 50 million Facebook users in an attempt to influence the election.
Community advocacy organization, North Country Peace Group, sent signed petitions to the SUNY Trustees and to Carl McCall, chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, protesting the renaming.
“They sold a medical school’s name to the highest bidder, which was Renaissance Technologies,” member Myrna Gordon said. She acknowledged the generosity of Renaissance employees, but pointed out that Stony Brook is a public school.
“Naming rights shouldn’t be available at any price,” she said.
When asked about the controversy surrounding Mercer at a press conference with student media in February, Stanley stated that the name was meant to honor all of Renaissance’s employees, not just Mercer. “To say that we’re not going to acknowledge their extraordinary generosity because one person in that group has political beliefs who we disagree with, I think does a tremendous disservice to these people who have been extraordinarily generous to the university,” he said. “[To] ignore the political beliefs of the other 60, 70, people seems to me to be unfair to them and very inappropriate.”