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Tycoon's fortune helps those he wouldn't

Collegiate atmosphere. Confident. Contemplative. Beautifully designed space appreciatively occupied. This characterizes the two offices, that of Marshall Robinson, the president, and that of editorial consultant Richard Magat , whom I visited at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York.

In 1907 Margaret Olivia Sage transferred $10 million (and later added another living conditions in the United States. The money had come from the estate of her husband, who was outspoken in his opposition to philanthropy. She requested that the foundation ''take up the larger and more difficult problems . . . in such a manner as to secure cooperation and aid in their solution.''

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The capital assets of the foundation today exceed $50 million, which is used to maintain a professional staff of social scientists, provide support for other scholars in collaboration with other granting agencies and academic institutions , sponsor special seminars on current social problems, publish books and monographs which are the outcomes of some research it sponsors, and conduct a Visiting Scholar Program, which brings individuals to the foundation for a year to consult and continue their own research and writing in areas in which the foundation has an interest.

The Russell Sage Foundation's current agenda focuses on three areas:

1. The changing role of gender in American institutions.

2. The growth of procedural complexity resulting from the impact on institutions of a growing desire for participation by many different sectors and classes in society, a greater sensitivity to different groups in society, a social endorsement of new rights and entitlements for specific individuals and groups, and a marked increase in skepticism about the family, the church, government, and elites.

3. Risk perception and risk management - why people feel life is more dangerous now, even though statistics show that longevity has increased and health has improved - and how to dispel unfounded fears.

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