COLUMBIA, SC — Philadelphia-area native Peter McCausland has good memories of attending the University of South Carolina even during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s.
After years away from the Columbia campus while building a chemicals business, McCausland was asked to serve on a board by then-President John Palms and reconnected with his school. Thursday, that relationship yielded the biggest donation ever to USC’s largest school, the College of Arts and Sciences.
McCausland, founder and executive chairman of the Airgas Inc., and his wife, Bonnie, established a $10 million endowment to keep promising faculty on campus, launch a visiting scholars program, and pay for new courses and research, the school announced Thursday.
The McCauslands already have donated $3.75 million to USC over the past 11 years. Their money created the McCausland Center for Brain Imaging as well as helped recruit and retain professors.
Their latest $10 million contribution is among the largest in USC’s $1 billion Carolina’s Promise fundraising campaign that ends in 2015. The campaign has raised more than $775 million in the past six years.
Most large donations go to professional majors, such as medicine and business. But McCausland was a history major who attended law school before getting into the chemicals business. “I think we have plenty of specialists,” he said during a visit Thursday to USC’s campus.
Nearly half of the new gift will go to the McCausland Faculty Fellows Program, which will offer 20 fellowships worth $60,000 to professors. The retention money comes as USC is adding 250 faculty members to accommodate its swelling enrollment.
“Retaining them is a dean’s nightmare,” College of Arts and Sciences Dean Mary Anne Fitzpatrick said. She said she has been able to retain about 85 percent of the younger professors that the school aims to keep.
“I have always felt that someone ought to focus on helping Carolina keep its best professors and recruit the best candidates, and I am glad we are in a position to help,” McCausland said.
The program has named its first four fellows, who have been at the school about five or six years. They are: Hunter Gardner, department of language, literature and culture; Blaine Griffen, department of biological sciences; Catherine Keyser, department of English language and literature; and Joseph November, department of history.
The McCaulands’ donation also will go to a visiting scholars program that will bring two new faculty members to USC each year for undergraduate seminars and for research projects to bolster department offerings within the College of Arts and Sciences.
The McCauslands Innovation Fund will award $10,000 to $50,000 each year to new programs, research or courses that “meet the emerging needs of students,” USC said.
McCausland said the recent push for innovation reflected his experience in Columbia, where he headed the Interfraternity Council and wrote for the student newspaper before graduating in 1971.
“I felt that I was safe to be myself and to try new things (at USC),” he said.