GIFTS from US faculty members to their own colleges are unusual but not unheard of, say college fund administrators.
American universities are experienced fund-raisers. Capital campaigns routinely come with $100 million or even billion-dollar targets. But colleges do not typically target their own staff, for the simple reason that employees are seldom flush with cash.
The size of Duncan Rice's donation raised eyebrows. "That's substantial - $50,000 is very generous," said Susan Murphy, a fund administrator at the private University of San Francisco. The largest gift of its kind her university had ever received was about $100,000 from a law faculty member.
Professor Rice served at New York University as its dean of arts and sciences and later as vice-chancellor. NYU is a well-known private university, but it has many students who are the first in their family at college, and helps many of them with scholarships. It is unable, however, to draw on the vast endowment of an elite institution such as Harvard. With his background in teaching, Mr Rice would have seen the need first hand, officials said.
Some US institutions often invite staff to contribute to student scholarships, on the basis of a payroll deduction. But the amounts are often small and symbolic, a measure of goodwill rather than anything else. Most named scholarship funds tend to come from wealthy alumni. One notable exception was Oseola McCarty, an 87-year-old laundress who gave $150,000 to establish a scholarship fund for hard-up black students.
The largest gifts from academics tend to come from those in certain disciplines, such as law or medicine, who maintain private practices at the same time as teaching. Occasionally, engineering or science staff become wealthy on the basis of a patent. Gifts will be particularly important if aimed at a department such as classics that does not produce many richly paid professionals.
Faculty members will start to get fund-raising letters from their college only as they approach retirement, or after it. Larry Zaglaniczny, of the National Association of Student Financial Administrators, said: "There are any number of schools where faculty contribute $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000 - usually retiring faculty, or those who have left the fund as part of their estate or will."