Endowed chairs at academic institutions are curious things. Often the gifts of wealthy alumni or large companies that want to develop good press, it’s fairly rare that people really connect professors to the people who might have funded their positions.

But sometimes the stories behind the endowed chair are fairly interesting.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s late husband, Martin Ginsburg (above), was a prominent tax expert and for many years a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He once did some very important work for another rather famous American. And then there was a question about payment.

From a piece in the Wall Street Journal published after Ginsburg died in 2010:

Ginsburg joined the Georgetown University Law Center’s faculty in 1980, and focused his scholarship largely on the Internal Revenue Code. He also worked as a tax lawyer at Fried Frank in Washington.

Ginsburg is well known for, among other accomplishments, helping Ross Perot resolve a handful of thorny tax issues during General Motors’ acquisition of his company, Electronic Data Systems, in 1984.

…In just several hours’ worth of work, Ginsburg helped Perot save some unbelievably whopping amount of money. But the two couldn’t agree on how Ginsburg should be paid. A couple hours’ at Ginsburg’s hourly rate wasn’t enough, in Perot’s mind. At the same time, paying out even a modest fraction of what Perot saved as a result of Ginsburg’s work was too much, in Ginsburg’s mind.

The two settled on an endowed chair at Georgetown law school in Ginsburg’s honor.

I don’t want to make too much of this, knowing little other information about Mr. Ginsburg, but this seems like a very sensible compromise on behalf of both men. Note that the chairmanship is named after Ginsburg, not Perot, who paid for it. How common is such an altruistic decision in academia?

Daniel Halperin, incidentally, now occupies the Martin D. Ginsburg Chair in Taxation at Georgetown.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer