Jeremy M. Jacobs Sr.’s deep ties to the University at Buffalo go back to the late 1950s, when he arrived as a business student at the still-private university on its Main Street campus.
Over the decades since, Jacobs, the billionaire head of the Delaware North hospitality and tourism conglomerate, has helped pick UB presidents while he and his family have donated millions of dollars to the university.
But Jacobs makes his biggest commitment today to UB. He, his wife, Margaret, and his family are giving $30 million to UB’s medical school, which will be named the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“This is my hometown. We’ve got several thousand employees in the greater Western New York area. This is an investment in their quality of life. And it’s a statement of them, collectively,” Jacobs said in an interview in his KeyCenter office downtown. “The money that it took to do this was money that was earned here, in one form or another, by the associates here. It couldn’t have been done without their hard work.”
The donation is the second-largest single gift in the university’s history and it brings Jacobs’ and his family’s total contributions to UB over the years to more than $50 million.
And this is the first time UB has named one of its schools after anyone.
Jacobs’ donation is transformational for the medical school, UB officials said. In two years, it will move into a new, $375 million home now under construction on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The gift also boosts UB recruiting efforts, officials said, and sends a message to other potential donors.
“It’s a huge donation. It’s a huge gift. And anybody giving that kind of money has to be confident that we are doing the right thing,” UB President Satish K. Tripathi said in an interview.
UB officials and Jacobs family members formally announced the gift at a well-attended news conference Monday morning on the medical campus.
Speaking first, Tripathi recounted Jacobs’ long history of dedicated service to the university. Dr. Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the medical school, then outlined the school’s ambitious strategic plan to boost research and recruit top-notch faculty and students. That agenda is an expensive one, he said, and that’s why philanthropy like the Jacobs’ gift is so important.
Charlie Jacobs, Jeremy Jacobs’ son and CEO of Delaware North’s Boston Holdings, then introduced his father by talking about how much UB has meant to him, dating back to his undergraduate days, and by saying how proud he was years later to receive an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.
The senior Jacobs, speaking last, talked about the value of medical education and medical research.
Few UB alumni are in the same position as Jacobs to give back to the university.
The 75-year-old Town of Aurora resident is chairman of family-owned Delaware North, which was founded by his father and his uncles 100 years ago and has annual revenues of $3 billion today. He also is chairman of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and has a net worth of $4 billion according to Forbes.
Jacobs was married by the time he started at UB, so he said he focused on classwork and didn’t throw himself into social or campus life. But, years after graduating, he got pulled back into university circles by a friend in the business community who urged Jacobs to join the UB Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm. Jacobs has served as chairman of the UB Council, the university’s governing body, since 1998, leading the searches that led to the selections of Tripathi and his predecessor, John B. Simpson, as president.
He said he’s gained a lot from his decades of involvement with UB.
“It’s been a passion of mine. I’ve actually enjoyed the relationship. I’ve enjoyed the people. I’ve enjoyed the process that I’ve been involved in. It exposes me to people that I otherwise wouldn’t meet,” Jacobs said in the interview.
Jacobs’ late brother, Dr. Lawrence, has his own legacy of service to the university that has influenced Jacobs.
Lawrence Jacobs served for many years as chairman of UB’s neurology department, after spurning the family business for a standout career as a physician and researcher into treatments for multiple sclerosis. Jeremy Jacobs and his wife previously gave $10 million to the Jacobs Institute, an interdisciplinary medical and research center, to honor his brother, who died in 2001.
Jacobs said he wanted to make a donation that supported medical breakthroughs and training in Buffalo, at a time when every city across the United States is trying to build an economy based in health care.
“We’ve created a corridor of institutions that will make up a tremendous learning experience for anybody coming into medicine. I think the medical experience in that environment will be one that equals any place in the country,” Jacobs said Friday.
The donation comes at a critical time for the medical school, which is constructing a new home in that downtown medical corridor.
The university is building a $375 million, 628,000-square-foot educational and research facility that officials say will allow it to boost faculty from 780 now to 850 or 860, and grow each entering class of medical students, from 144 now to 180 by the time the building opens in 2017.
Moving the medical school downtown, where it originally was located, from the South Campus allows medical school faculty and students to work closer with clinicians and scientists at the hospitals and research centers on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
“It was a very, I’m going to say, courageous decision for UB to move the medical school downtown,” said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “It is big thinking, right? Big, strategic thinking. And I think that this gift recognizes that.”
The medical school is in the midst of a $200 million fundraising campaign, and the Jacobs gift brings the total raised as part of the campaign to $160 million.
This is the second-largest single donation in UB’s and the Medical School’s history, behind only a $40 million gift made anonymously in 2011 by a late local doctor who graduated from the medical school.
Jacobs’ donation is an unrestricted gift, meaning it can be used for any purpose within the medical school. UB officials say it will go toward research and academic programs, student scholarships and construction of the new school building.
“I think it’s absolutely in keeping with the renaissance that Buffalo is going through, and it’s exciting to see the Jacobs family be a significant part of that renaissance,” said Thomas R. Beecher Jr., a former chairman of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus who was a close friend of Lawrence Jacobs.
Philanthropy is playing a larger role at universities, where tuition, state support and federal funding don’t cover the high cost of research and education.
A gift of this size, from someone of Jacobs’ stature, sends a message to other prospective donors that UB’s medical school is worth supporting financially, said Cain, the medical school dean.
“This again sets a new bar and can be used to help make the case for others. So if Jeremy Jacobs and his family believe in the school, we hope others will, as well,” Cain said in an interview.
Further, a $30 million donation makes a statement to faculty and researchers at other medical schools, and to undergraduates applying to medical school, that something noteworthy is happening at UB, said Jo Wiederhorn, president and CEO of the Associated Medical Schools of New York.
“It opens up all kinds of doors for them,” Wiederhorn said. “With a gift like this, Buffalo will be able to recruit some of the best scientists in the world, some of the best educators in the world, then begin to attract some of the best students in the world.”
A donation of this magnitude takes a long time to come together.
UB, Jacobs and his family have in recent years talked about his making a substantial donation to the medical school, with the university working to convince Jacobs to invest in the institution’s academic and research mission.
“It’s a long-term relationship,” Tripathi said.
By June, Cain said, the university had a verbal agreement with Jacobs and his family, and it was sealed within the last 10 days.
When the gift was finalized, Tripathi said he told Jacobs, “Thank you, thank you for believing in UB’s future.”
In a last step, the State University of New York board of trustees voted in executive session last Wednesday to name the medical school after the Jacobs family. The UB Council also approved the naming.
The Jacobs name already graces a handful of buildings on and off campus, as do the names of other contributors from throughout the university’s long history. The Jacobs Management Center hosts UB’s School of Management. And the Jacobs Executive Development Center, at the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Street, is the former Delaware North headquarters later donated to UB by the company.
But UB has never named one of its schools, its primary academic divisions, after someone before. Of the 62 universities that make up the prestigious Association of American Universities, including UB, just 11 have named medical schools, Cain said.
UB officials said they felt the time was right to finally name a school after one of the university’s most generous donor families.
Jacobs said he hopes the new medical school name resonates with future classes of students.
“If anything else, I’d love for them to say ‘I graduated from “The Jake,” ’ because that was my brother’s nickname,” he said in the interview.