Ellison canceled the gift because Lawrence H. Summers stepped down as Harvard's president this month after a stormy tenure at the university, Oracle spokesman Bob Wynne said. Summers announced his resignation in February, after being embroiled in controversy throughout 2005. Wynne said Ellison began to reconsider his donation when it appeared that Summers would step down.
"It was really Larry Summers' brainchild and once it looked like Larry Summers was leaving, Larry Ellison reconsidered," Wynne said. "It was Larry Ellison and Larry Summers that had initially come up with this notion."
Ellison's promise to Harvard last year created a sensation throughout the philanthropic community because it would have been the school's largest single contribution. The gift would have created a global health foundation named after Ellison.
Wynne said Ellison planned to make a donation to another institution, but had no details as to the size of the planned contribution or where it will be made. Wynne said he didn't know if Ellison had notified Harvard of his intentions.
Ellison, 61, co-founded Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle in 1977 and helped build the company into a business software giant. He ranks as the nation's 15th-richest person, based on Forbes magazine's annual wealth survey, with an estimated net worth of $16 billion.
Harvard officials couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.
But in recent weeks, Harvard officials became increasingly concerned that the flamboyant billionaire wasn't going to follow through on a promise he made last year. The planned Ellison institute at Harvard laid off three workers it had hired in anticipation of the funding, a move that surprised some because institutes usually don't start spending until they formally receive the donations.
"It's a dance between the donor and recipient and that can go awry at times," said James Ferris, the director of the University of Southern California's Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy. "Harvard sort of took it on face value and ramped up and there's some risk there."
Last week, Ellison made a $5 million donation as part of a planned $100 million contribution to the Ellison Medical Foundation, a nonprofit that Ellison launched several years ago. The contribution is part of an unusual settlement to an insider-trading lawsuit filed by aggrieved shareholders who sued Ellison two years ago.
The contribution plus $22 million in lawyer fees settles a civil complaint that revolves around a $900 million gain he generated by selling some of his Oracle stock shortly before the company's shares plummeted in 2001.
Ellison's rebuff of Harvard and the court-mandated funding of his own medical foundation comes amid a suddenly energized philanthropic movement led by the world's two richest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
On Sunday, Buffett announced he would leave most of his roughly $44 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That came less than two weeks after Gates said he would relinquish day-to-day oversight of Microsoft Corp. in 2008 to concentrate on philanthropy full time.