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Oracle's CEO cancels $115m gift to Harvard

Exit of school's president soured him on the plan

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Corp.'s chief executive, Larry Ellison, has pulled the plug on a planned $115 million gift to Harvard University.

Oracle spokesman Bob Wynne said Ellison canceled the gift because Lawrence H. Summers stepped down as Harvard president this month. Summers was embroiled in disputes throughout 2005. Wynne said Ellison began to reconsider his donation when it appeared that Summers would step down.

``It was really Larry Summers' brainchild and once it looked like Larry Summers was leaving, Larry Ellison reconsidered," Wynne said. ``It was Larry Ellison and Larry Summers that had initially come up with this notion."

Ellison's promise to Harvard last year created a sensation throughout the philanthropic community, because it would have been the school's largest single contribution. The gift would have created a global health foundation named after Ellison.

Wynne said Ellison plans to make a donation to another institution, but had no details about the size of the planned contribution or where it will be made. Wynne said he didn't know if Ellison had notified Harvard of his intentions.

Christopher Murray, director of Harvard's Global Health Initiative, who was closely involved in the negotiations around the donation and would have led the institute, told The Wall Street Journal that he couldn't confirm or deny whether Ellison had informed anyone at Harvard.

Harvard officials could not be reached for comment late yester day.

``We're disappointed to hear [about Ellison's decision], and particularly disappointed that he hasn't bothered communicating that to us," Murray said.

In recent weeks, Harvard officials became increasingly concerned that the billionaire wasn't going to follow through on the promise he made last year.

The planned Ellison institute at Harvard laid off three workers it had hired in anticipation of the funding, a move that surprised some because institutes usually don't start spending until they formally receive the donations.

``It's a dance between the donor and recipient and that can go awry at times," said James Ferris, director of the University of Southern California's Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy. ``Harvard sort of took it on face value and ramped up, and there's some risk there."

Last week, Ellison made a $5 million donation as part of a planned $100 million contribution to the Ellison Medical Foundation, a nonprofit that Ellison launched several years ago. The contribution is part of an unusual settlement to an insider-trading lawsuit filed by aggrieved shareholders who sued Ellison two years ago.

The contribution, plus $22 million in lawyer fees, settles a civil complaint that revolved around a $900 million gain he generated by selling some of his Oracle stock shortly before the company's shares plummeted in 2001.

Ellison's rebuff of Harvard and the court-mandated funding of his own medical foundation comes amid a suddenly energized philanthropic movement led by the world's two richest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. On Sunday, Buffett said he would leave most of his roughly $44 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which came on the heels of Gates's own bombshell that he would give up day-to-day oversight of Microsoft Corp. in 2008 to concentrate on philanthropy full time.

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