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Anonymous $360 Million Donation To RPI Sets New College Gift Record
THE WASHINGTON POST -- An anonymous donor has pledged $360 million to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the largest gift ever to a single U.S. college or university, and the latest in an extraordinary string of huge donations to higher education.

The gift to the 6,300-student school in Troy, N.Y. surpasses the $350 million pledged to MIT last year at the peak of the economic boom and stock market surge that triggered unprecedented contributions.

“The size of this gift is remarkable in any era and it is a transformational gift without doubt for RPI,” said Vance Peterson, president of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

At the same time, higher education officials worry that any sustained downturn in the stock market might reverse the trend. The nation’s institutions of higher education reported receiving some $18 billion in donations last year, but three quarters of the money came from just 5 percent of the donors.

“These gifts are reflective obviously of the appreciation in the stock market, which now seems to be headed in the other direction,” said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 colleges and universities. “Higher education always has been dependent on the big gift. But it is possible that the glory days of these big gifts may be coming to an end.”

The gift to RPI came from the same donor who in December pledged $130 million to build two high-technology centers on the 260-acre campus overlooking the Hudson River. The donor then decided to triple the gift and give the school complete discretion in its use.

Russia, Iran Sign Cooperation Pact

Russia and Iran on Monday signed their first cooperation pact since Iran’s 1979 revolution as the two countries’ leaders met for four hours in a Kremlin session dominated by talk of increased arms trade.

Vowing a “new spring” in relations with Russia, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami arrived here for a four-day visit armed with a shopping list for Russian weaponry. His summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin amounts to a diplomatic jab at Washington, which has labored unsuccessfully to keep Russia from exporting arms and nuclear technology to Tehran.

Despite the U.S. concerns, Putin told reporters that “Iran has the right to arm and defend itself” and said Russia is eager to supply new weapons to Iran that analysts here said could be worth several billion dollars during the next few years.

The exact details of those sales have yet to be worked out -- contracts are expected to be signed by this summer -- but Russian officials said Monday that the Iranians have expressed interest in sophisticated anti-missile monitoring systems, aircraft and helicopters.

Last fall, Moscow abandoned a 1995 agreement with the United States to halt arms deliveries to Iran by 1999, and almost immediately after renouncing the deal with the Americans began a new round of talks with the Iranians on stepping up the weapons trade.

Strapped for cash to fund their own military, Russian leaders have increasingly turned to the arms export trade. Monday, Putin recognized that fact, saying that Russia is interested in Iran not only as a strategic partner but also “for economic reasons.”