Nonprofit news roundup for Feb. 5, 2009

Obama launches faith-based initiative

President Barack Obama, who is unveiling his version of the faith-based initiative, hopes to avoid some of the problems that plagued former President George W. Bush, The Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 5 (see faith story). The Bush administration was beset by the issue of separation between church and state, in particular the issue of whether faith-based organizations can make hiring decisions based on religious affiliation. Though Obama originally took a hard stance against faith-based hiring, he has amended his position to consider cases on an individual basis. The federal faith office also will incorporate plans for abortion reduction and dialogue with Muslim nations.

Flagging donations leave Brandeis reeling

Brandeis University, which relies heavily on private donors to fund its operations and endowment, has seen a nosedive in contributions this year, The Boston Globe reported Feb. 5 (see donation story). Private donors to the Waltham, Mass.-based school, many of whom were burned in the Bernard Madoff investment scam, provide up to $14 million of the school’s $330 million annual operating budget. The abrupt drop in donations, as well as a projected $80 million operating deficit over the next five years, offers a clue as to why university trustees recently decided to close the Rose Art Museum and sell some of its $350 million collection.

SUNY Stony Brook surges past campaign goal

The State University of New York in Stony Brook has raised $312.8 million in the largest fundraising campaign in the history of the university system, Newsday reported Feb. 5. The seven-year campaign, which will continue through June 30, surpassed its $300 million goal with a recent $17 million gift from Jim Simons, former chair of the math department, and his wife, Marilyn. Last February the couple donated $60 million to the university, the largest gift received by the university system to date.

Georgia school district settles dispute with faith-based group

The Cobb County school district in Georgia has ended its legal dispute with Child Evangelism Fellowship, a nonprofit that aims to promote loyalty and patriotism in elementary-school students, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Feb. 5. The Warrenton, Mo.-based nonprofit filed a lawsuit last month, claiming the district’s policy of charging some groups to use classrooms violated First Amendment rights. The school district agreed to allow nonprofits to use classrooms after school hours at no charge, and reimbursed the group for legal fees and other expenses.

In Brief:

* Lawmakers debating the inclusion of art in the economic-stimulus plan should remember its power to drive social progress, foster creativity and free humanity from the myriad concerns of everyday life, says Ed Siegel, former theater and television critic for The Boston Globe, in an opinion column Feb. 5.

* Phillip Ragon, founder of a Cambridge, Mass.-based software firm, and his wife, Susan, donated $100 million for the creation of an institute at Massachusetts General Hospital that will focus on developing vaccines for AIDS and other deadly diseases, The Cambridge Chronicle reported Feb. 4.

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