A view of the interior of the townhouse on East 84th Street that the Leon Levy Foundation has donated to N.Y.U. The building, still under renovation, will be the home of a new center for study of the ancient world.
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD and JONATHAN D. GLATER
New York University and Columbia have each received donations of about $200 million, among the largest to academic institutions in recent years. The gifts, from different donors, come as both universities try to compete with rivals that have far larger endowments.
The gift to N.Y.U., among the largest it has ever received, will create a multidisciplinary center for the study of the ancient world. Consisting of cash and real estate valued at up to $200 million, the gift is from the Leon Levy Foundation. Mr. Levy, who died in 2003, was a Wall Street investor and benefactor of art and archaeology. The university president, John Sexton, and the Levy foundation's trustee, Shelby White, Mr. Levy's widow, are expected to announce the gift today.
The gift to Columbia, announced yesterday at a ceremony attended by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is the largest in the university's history. It is from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, established by Mr. Greene, a prominent New York lawyer and a Columbia alumnus, and from his widow, Dawn M. Greene. The money, slightly more than $200 million, will establish the Jerome L. Greene Science Center to study the brain and human behavior.
N.Y.U. officials emphasized in interviews that a goal of the new center, to be called the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, was to approach the research and teaching of antiquity on a broad geographic and thematic scale. The focus will be on cultural evolution through time and across societies and regions, incorporating the history, archaeology, literature and art of antiquity.
The areas to be studied will include not only Europe and the Mediterranean basin, but also Central and East Asia � from Gibraltar to Taiwan, as Glen W. Bowersock, a historian familiar with the plans, put it.
N.Y.U.'s president, Dr. Sexton, said yesterday that the new institute "will chart a new course that will transform the way antiquity is conceived and taught, without geographic or cultural boundaries."
In an interview yesterday, Ms. White recalled that her husband had complained that the history of the ancient world "was being taught vertically, but it ought to be taught horizontally."
By that, Ms. White said, he meant that the complexities of ancient societies could be understood only by exploring their relationships across distances and over time.
"This was our dream project," she said of the institute.
Ms. White and Mr. Levy amassed a substantial collection of classical art over several decades. Many of the pieces of sculpture in their collection are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and some have figured in recent controversies over the legitimate ownership of artifacts. Ms. White emphasized that the new institute would have no role in displaying or studying their collection.
"We have a major collection," Ms. White said, choosing her words carefully. "We have always bought in good faith. We publish and support archaeology. We know the collection will ultimately go to a major institution. That is not what the institute is created for."
Lawrence E. Stager, a Harvard archaeologist who has done excavations in Israel with help from the Levy Foundation, praised the new approach planned for the institute.
"Some of the most exciting research happens when you can get through the tunnel visions of academic departments," Dr. Stager said. "This is a rare example of how to avoid scholarly provincialism and examine the interconnections of ancient cultures and exchange of ideas."
Dr. Bowersock, a professor of ancient history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., who advised Ms. White and Mr. Levy on the project, said: "It's an idea whose time has come. I know of nothing like it. I know there are people who try to bridge disciplines, but I know of no institution that is committed to this for the study of antiquity."
The institute will be in a six-story townhouse at 15 East 84th Street, which was previously owned by the Ogden Reid family and then the American Jewish Congress. The Levy Foundation bought the property two years ago and is having it renovated.
Christopher Ratt�, a classical archaeologist at N.Y.U., said the institute was expected to hire five or six full-time professors, maybe an equal number of visiting fellows, and several post-doctoral researchers.
The institute is to begin operations as soon as a director is chosen, probably this fall, and the first class of doctoral students will start in 2008, university officials said.
In announcing the gift to Columbia, Lee C. Bollinger, the university's president, said he hoped that the center would be "the world's foremost facility for study of the brain and the mind."
Mayor Bloomberg, who attended the event along with Representative Charles B. Rangel, said, "There's no doubt that the Greene Center will make a major contribution to our city."
Mr. Greene, for whom the new center at Columbia will be named, died in 1999. He was a founding member of the law firm of Marshall, Bratter, Greene, Allison & Tucker, and was a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School.
"Jerry would be as excited as the foundation and I to be making this gift," Ms. Greene, the president of the foundation, said in a statement. "He believed in education, especially a Columbia education, and he believed in New York and its future."
The Greenes have previously donated $40 million to Columbia, the university said.
The Greene Center will include laboratories and classrooms and will support scientists exploring the relationship of genes, the workings of the brain, and human behavior. Among other things, it will aim to explore the causes of diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative conditions.
In his remarks, Dr. Bollinger emphasized that social scientists will also work with the center, so that economists, for example, may study the rationality of human behavior.
Dr. Bollinger said research at the new center would help close the gap between study of the brain at the cellular or smaller level, and research into human behavior, learning and motivation, among other areas. The center will also study conditions like autism, dementia and schizophrenia.
"Those are two parallel universes, and there has been a very big gap between them," Mr. Bollinger told reporters after the ceremony.
The Greene Center will be built at 125th Street and Broadway and will be part of the university's broader expansion into that area, Dr. Bollinger said. He said the university hopes to complete the center in five to six years.
N.Y.U. and Columbia are longtime rivals, as Mayor Bloomberg observed at Columbia yesterday, but both universities must compete with other elite universities with much more money.
Columbia's endowment is about $5.2 billion and N.Y.U., which is in the fifth year of a seven-year capital campaign to raise $2.5 billion, has about $1.6 billion, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In contrast, Harvard has more than $25 billion and Yale, $15 billion.
The gifts to the two universities are exceeded only by about a dozen philanthropic endeavors within the last 10 years, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's $1 billion Millennium Scholars Program and a $600 million gift by Gordon and Betty Moore to the California Institute of Technology, according to The Chronicle.
Stanford University received $400 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in 2001, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology received about $350 million over 20 years from Patrick J. and Lore Harp McGovern. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute received $360 million from an anonymous donor in 2001.
Karen W. Arenson contributed reporting for this article.