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SLU gets record gift of $50 million to boost research

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield donated $50 million to Saint Louis University to improve the school's standing as a top tier research institution. The gift is the largest in the university's 200-year history.
Steve Dolan | Saint Louis University

Local philanthropists Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield are donating $50 million to Saint Louis University to help bolster the school’s research efforts.

The gift announced Tuesday is the largest in the school’s 200-year history.

The money is earmarked for three major projects. The majority will go toward creating the Saint Louis University Research Institute and the Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research. A smaller portion will finance scholarships and travel for the university’s chess program (Sinquefield is president of the St. Louis Chess Club).

While the donation does not stipulate any targeted areas of research, SLU President Fred Pestello said he anticipates that most of the institute money will be prioritized for medical research.

“Probably a disproportionate share of it will go into medical research, because that’s an area where we need to invest, and we are underperforming in the amount of sponsor dollars that we’re bringing in. But it’s open; it will go across the board,” Pestello said.

Rex Sinquefield agreed, saying, “I think that will happen as a matter of course. Any good or great university has a lot of medical research, and by the very nature of the beast, it’s going to consume most of the dollars.”

Pestello and Sinquefield underscored the broad mandate of the institute.

Its three main objectives are to create “a critical mass of highly productive researchers” by offering funding to current faculty as well as focusing on recruitment, invest in “priority research areas” by awarding $50,000-$100,000 planning grants to “promising proposals,” as well as launching a research growth fund.

“We’re completely open to whatever happens; We’re going to respond to opportunities as they come to us,” Sinquefield said.

Sinquefield noted out of all the measures outlined in the gift, he’s most excited about the prospect of enhancing the school’s research capabilities.

“I mean, they’re doing a lot of it now,” Sinquefield said. “It’s quite strong, but we just want to make it a lot stronger.”

When asked if he had a particular institution in mind as a point of reference, he named Oxford.

Sinquefield said he sees making the university a higher-caliber research institution as something that could transform the university from good to great.

Pestello said he also expects the gift will change the university in the coming years.

“I expect us to see more publications, more presentations. I expect us to grow the amount of externally sponsored research that we have. I think you’ll see us move up in the rankings.”

While the money will be spent over the next several years, the first money from the gift will be spent within the next 10 days, Sinquefield said.

Sinquefield is an alumnus of the university and has served on the Board of Trustees for 17 years.

A pioneer of index investment funds, he co-founded Dimensional Fund Advisors, which today has more than $525 billion in global assets. Jeanne Sinquefield oversaw the DFA trading department and served as executive vice president until the couple retired in 2005.

He has been involved in a variety of civic issues, most recently the potential privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Follow Abigail on Twitter: @AbigailCensky

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