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US students major in ... philanthropy

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(Read caption) Students wearing helmets and road signs perform for prominent philanthropist and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during an event to give children motorcycle helmets at a school in Hanoi in March. At Indiana University students can major in philanthropy, now considered a serious academic discipline.

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Indiana University’s trustees voted [in June] to create a school of philanthropy, the first in the nation and a sign of both the growing amount of scholarship on the nonprofit world and intense demand to offer rigorous training to people who work at charitable institutions.

The university has already raised nearly 70 percent of its $100-million goal to endow the new school, said Eugene Tempel, who founded Indiana’s Center on Philanthropy, one of the first and biggest academic units created to study the field.

Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University, said the decision to start a school was a profound development for nonprofits.

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“It’s a coming of age for the study and teaching of philanthropy—just as we have schools for government and business, this will be the first school for the nonprofit sector,” said Mr. Lenkowsky, who is a also a Chronicle columnist.

Indiana has long been building a serious academic program in philanthropy. It created the first philanthropy doctoral program, and last month it graduated the first students in the United States to earn bachelor’s degrees in philanthropy.

Mr. Tempel says he hopes other colleges and institutions will follow Indiana’s lead and elevate the study of philanthropy.

While Indiana is a public university, private donations will be the key to paying for the school, said Mr. Tempel.

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The goal is to expand the number of faculty members who teach philanthropy by 10 members over the next years, says Patrick Rooney, who took over as head of the Center on Philanthropy when Mr. Tempel left to lead the Indiana University Foundation. Among the projects the center produces: “Giving USA,” which this week issued a new estimate of the state of private support.

Under the plan, student would graduate from the School of Philanthropy rather than liberal arts, and the school would grant tenure.

Today, “everyone who teaches in philanthropic studies has a home somewhere else,” said Mr. Tempel. “This will allow them to have one home, one primary responsibility.”

Mr. Tempel says when he and a small group of others wrote a document 12 year ago pushing a School of Philanthropy, “some people thought were we crazy.”

The critics didn’t see enough intellectual basis to justify creating a school. One wrote, “There isn’t enough 'there' there.”

But now, Mr. Tempel says, more scholarship has been conducted, and academics have less reason to raise the question.

Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University, agrees, noting the great deal of research on philanthropy conducted in the past 10 or 20 years. He sees the new school as a logical extension of the Indiana center’s work. “It is an interesting start, and we’ll see if it catches hold [at other universities].”

William Schambra, director of the Bradley Center of Philanthropy and Civic Renewal for the Hudson Institute, gives the new school a qualified thumbs up: “If the school can encourage foundations to enter into larger discussions of the moral and political purposes of philanthropy in America, then it could be helpful, but it won’t be if it is just going to be another technical training school for nonprofit managers or fundraisers. If the classes are all about measuring outcomes and effective grant making 101, then it isn’t adding to the field.”

The school must still be approved by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, which could take it up as soon as next fall or winter. If approved, it could start operations in July 2013.

This article originally appeared at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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