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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Donor gives millions for disability

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: News

After over a year of negotiations, the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation has given the Heller School for Social Policy and Management a $5 million grant to found the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy.

This new Institute will be situated within the Heller school building and focus on policy issues of coping with autism and other diseases. The funds will enable the Lurie Institute to hire a new chair in Disability Studies and host conferences, speakers, and colloquia about policy research pertaining to living with diseases like autism.

The numbers [of individuals diagnosed with autism] is growing rapidly and the cause of autism is still unknown, said Stuart Altman, Dean of the Heller School. There are lots of public policy concerns about this issue.

Altman hopes that the new Institute will stimulate broader policy discussions about theses issues nationally and internationally.

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported an ASD prevalence between 1 in 500 children and 1 in 166 children. “Our estimates are becoming better and more consistent, though we can't yet tell if there is a true increase in ASDs or if the changes are the result of our better studies,” wrote CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding in a press release earlier this year.

The Lurie Family Foundation, centered in Wellesley, was established in 1977 with the aim of bettering conditions for individuals with autism, helping the families to cope, and raising public awareness about autism issues. Nancy Lurie Marks is personally affected by autism policy as she has an adult son with autism.

The grant for the Lurie Institute stipulates that there will be a clear focus on autism policy and education among other disabilities that it will consider. $1.5 million will be spent over a ten-year period on programs and activities for the Institute and the remaining funds are an endowment, with the interest funding the program indefinitely.

Marty Wyngaarden Krauss, PhD 81, Brandeiss provost, senior vice president for academic affairs and the John Stein Professor of Disability Research, expects that there will be programmatic activity at the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy within the next couple months.

The foundation has a history of awarding grants to Brandeis University and is a current financer of Professor Susan Birrens (PSYC) autism education program in addition to funding other autism research programs in the Boston area. Birren is teaching a course this semester entitled Autism and Human Developmental Disorders within the Psychology department. It is usually offered every second year.

Although Birren is not directly associated with this latest grant and does not work in the field of Disability policy, she is looking forward to seeing the progress of the new Institute. I do believe that it will raise the awareness and profile of autism research at Brandeis and provide an opportunity for people in different fields to talk to each other, Birren wrote to The Hoot.

In preparation for the new Institute, The Heller School has formed a committee to recruit a new Laurie Chair in Disability Studies. They intend to hire a chairperson outside of the university. With the funds from the grant, Altman intends to fund more classes for undergraduates and graduate students on disability issues. Currently there is only one undergraduate course directly related to disability issues and a few disability courses in the Heller school.

The Foundations ties to Brandeis began when the daughter of Nancy Lurie Marks, Cathy, graduated Brandeis in 1977. Her son, Jeffrey Lurie, the current owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, attained his PhD at the Heller School in 1987. Nicole Adams, Nancy Lurie Markss granddaughter, graduated in 2001.

The Lurie Institute will not be the first program focused on disability studies within the Heller School. In 1985 the Heller School was first awarded a grant to open the Nathan and Toby Starr Center for Mental Retardation. This center, although not as well financed as the new Lurie Institute, focuses on the impact of lifelong care-giving of family members with mental retardation and related social and policy issues. This smaller center was unable to fund its own chair and currently has an interim director, Dr. Marji Erickson Warfield.

The Lurie Institute will not be focused on the research aspects of the cause of autism although there will be some overlap with other projects on campus. The goal of the Lurie Institute is, To be a national and international leader in formulating policies that assist families with all kinds of disabilities, said Altman.