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Harvard's major gifts in limbo without Summers

Talks on donations worth $275m stall

Negotiations over three major donations to Harvard University, totaling $275 million, have stalled following Lawrence H. Summers's resignation as president, a new sign of how difficult it will be for Harvard to encourage large gifts without a permanent leader.

In late June, another large donor canceled plans to give Harvard at least $100 million for a global health initiative. Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison said he was doing so because of Summers's departure.

The three other potential gifts that are now in limbo were to come from media and publishing mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, who discussed giving Harvard a $100 million gift for a neuroscience institute; entrepreneur Richard A. Smith, who has considered giving $100 million for a science complex; and David Rockefeller, former head of Chase Manhattan Bank, who has discussed donating $75 million to fund study abroad for students, according to two sources familiar with the gifts.

The potential gifts were first reported yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, which suggested they may have been scrapped because of Summers's departure two weeks ago. The university's interim president, Derek Bok, is expected to serve for one year.

A Harvard official knowledgeable about the negotiations said the donors are not trying to punish Harvard for Summers's ouster, nor were they interested in giving the money only to Summers, as Ellison apparently was.

``They say, `Let's keep talking, but you understand I've got to look the next president in the eye and make sure we're on the same page,' " said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``No one makes a megagift when there's no president."

The official and a second person at Harvard who is familiar with fund-raising said yesterday that the gifts had only been discussed, not promised.

``It makes great sense that if you are going to give something for an institution, you want to know who is leading the institution," said Rockefeller's spokesman, Fraser Seitel. ``Mr. Rockefeller still has confidence in the university and looks forward to continuing to work with Harvard and its new president.

Rockefeller ``did regret that Summers won't be leading Harvard in the future," Seitel said. ``He is quite supportive of Larry and [has] mentioned that he admired Larry for his commitment to providing international experiences to undergraduates."

He said Rockefeller is still considering ways to support Harvard in the future. Seitel said the $10 million Rockefeller gave recently to the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard was long planned, not a scaled-down version of a larger gift.

Zuckerman's office provided a statement sasying he had several discussions with Summers, but did not have a final understanding of the project or a final agreement. ``Mr. Zuckerman looks forward to working again with the new leadership at Harvard," the statement read.

Through an assistant, Smith declined to comment.

A Harvard spokeswoman declined to comment on specific gifts but said in a statement: ``It is quite normal in situations of leadership transition in any not-for-profit organization for donors who are considering very major gifts to wait for a new leader to be in place before finalizing and announcing a major commitment."

Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.

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