White House Honors Donors
Three philanthropists were included among the recipients of the 2008 National Humanities Medal. On November 17, 2008, then-President George W. Bush and then-First Lady Laura Bush presented the medals to nine distinguished individuals, one museum, and one grantmaking foundation. Among the honorees were philanthropists Thomas and Jordan Saunders, Robert H. Smith, and the John Templeton Foundation.
Thomas Saunders is a former partner at Morgan Stanley, where among other achievements he helped Margaret Thatcher implement the privatization of Great Britain’s telecom industry. He and his wife, Jordan, were honored for their years of support for American education, especially in the state of Virginia. The couple has funded the digitization of the Thomas Jefferson retirement papers, supported the Virginia Military Institute, endowed the Matthew C. Horner chair in military theory at the Marine Corps University, and donated approximately $17 million to the University of Virginia.
Robert H. Smith is a developer based in Virginia, whose business accomplishments include the construction of Crystal City, Virginia. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Smith played an instrumental role in reinvigorating the university’s business school (now the Robert H. Smith School of Business) and building a new performing arts center (the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, named for Smith’s wife). In particular, however, the medal citation lauded Smith’s efforts to preserve sites of significant historical interest throughout the United States. Smith has helped underwrite an archaeological survey of James Madison’s Montpelier plantation, a renovation of Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage, as well as extensive capital improvements and renovations to Mount Vernon and Monticello.
Finally, the John Templeton Foundation, established by the recently deceased Sir John Templeton, was chosen “for opening new frontiers in the pursuit of answers to mankind’s oldest questions” through its “groundbreaking work in scientific, religious, and philosophical exploration of the deepest concerns of the humanities and the human race.” The medal citation specifically highlighted the Templeton Prize, an annual prize for over $1 million awarded to scholars whose research affirms “life’s spiritual dimension.” Also noted were the foundation’s efforts to encourage “civil discourse between the fields of science and religion,” and its commitment to its core values of “creativity, curiosity, gratitude, purpose, and wisdom.”
MacArthur Takes on Foreclosure Crisis
In October 2008, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a major initiative aimed at addressing the mounting fallout from the foreclosure crisis in the United States. In an effort to alleviate hard-hit neighborhoods in Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation intends to release $68 million in grants and low-interest loans throughout 2009. The Chicago-based foundation said it expects its intervention to leverage more than $500 million in capital and to affect some 10,000 households—including counseling services to 6,000 borrowers—with a goal of preventing 2,700 foreclosures by 2010.
MacArthur’s foreclosure prevention and mitigation effort will consist of three major components: outreach and counseling, financial products and services, and research and technical assistance. The bulk of the grant money—about $60 million—will go to program-related investments and financial programs that offer rescue loan and prevention programs, rent-to-own options, and programs that speed the purchase, repair, and disposition of foreclosed properties. Approximately $5 million of the grant money will go toward groups that offer counseling to distressed homeowners and legal assistance to low-income homeowners who were victims of fraud.
Gates Re-boots Ed Strategy
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation unveiled a new strategy for its education programs at a conference in Seattle, Washington, on November 11, 2008. Both Bill and Melinda Gates attended, delivering speeches on the performance to date of their foundation’s education programs, as well as their plans for the implementation of the new strategy.
Bill Gates described the foundation’s previous attempts to break large schools into smaller, more high-performing units. He noted that he found the results of the previous strategy unsatisfactory, citing low college attendance rates and achievement scores below the averages of local districts. “The percentage of students attending college the year after graduating high school was up only 2.5 percentage points after five years,” Gates observed. “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”
Gates now plans to focus on promoting and identifying higher standards for college readiness, improving teacher quality, and helping disadvantaged youth prepare for successful college careers. It intends to undertake several related projects, including major investments in testing performance-based teacher compensation systems, creating data systems to track student achievement, and establishing nationwide standardized tests to ensure college readiness among student populations across the nation.