Tufts Tomorrow, part II

A modest man makes a major impact

A generous gift from a man who lived a modest life was transformed into reality at the dedication of the John Richard Skuse, Class of 1941, Chair in Political Science on April 20. The first chair holder is Jeffrey M. Berry, professor of political science, who presented the inaugural lecture, "A Voice for Nonprofits."

A public servant all his life, Skuse, A41, left $5 million to Tufts that endowed the chair and created a fund for faculty and curriculum development. Another fund will provide financial assistance to students from Rockingham County, N.H., where Skuse was born and raised. The first four Skuse Scholarships were awarded this year to a sophomore, two juniors and a senior. Without this support, these students may have had to go elsewhere for their undergraduate education.

Jeffrey M. Berry, the first Skuse Professor of Political Science, with Susan Ernst, dean of Arts & Sciences. © J.D. Sloan

A career public servant
Skuse spent his career working for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Information Agency's East Asia Branch. He retired from the government in 1977, and lived alone in a small apartment in Washington, D.C., until he died in 1999.

"He returned to campus for reunions, and he never stopped learning after he left Tufts," said President Lawrence S. Bacow. "He went to every lecture possible. He had a wonderful smile and could light up a whole room. It is not often that we expect a gift of this magnitude from someone who was a public servant, but he amassed a fortune and gave it to Tufts. He did not enrich his own life, but chose to enrich the lives of many students who will live after him."

In 1990, Skuse befriended Sharon Dondero, the woman who managed the Washington, D.C., apartment building where he lived. Dondero spoke warmly of her friendship with Skuse.

"I had no idea when I met him the things I would learn in life," she told the audience. "He spoke often about Tufts. He served in the Pacific and was discharged from the Army to Wyoming, where he met a woman he decided to marry. He returned East and a few months later got a Dear John letter that said, "I don't think you'll be financially able to support a family.' She made a big mistake.

"He was very dear. When he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer he said, 'it's okay, I'm ready to go.' I was sobbing, and he comforted me. He brought out a box, and inside was the engagement ring he had bought for the woman in Wyoming. He gave it to me. He had an incredible spirit. Life never shut down for him. I thought it was a gift to know him. He was a dear, sweet person, and I am honored to see his dream come true. Tufts meant a lot to him."

Before giving his inaugural lecture as the Skuse Professor, Berry thanked family, friends and the university. To warm laughter, he also thanked "the woman who sent the Dear John letter."

Award-winning scholar
Berry, who has been at Tufts since 1974, specializes in scholarship on interest groups and citizen participation. The author of several books, Berry and co-author Kent Portney, professor of political science at Tufts, won the American Political Science Association's 1994 Gladys Kammerer Award for the Best Book in American Politics and the American Political Science Association Organized Section on Urban Politics' 1994 Best Book in Urban Politics Award for The Rebirth of Urban Democracy (Brookings Institution, 1993). Berry's most recent book, The New Liberalism: The Rising Power of Citizen Groups (Brookings Institution, 1999), received the Aaron Wildavsky Award, given annually by the Policy Studies Organization for the best book in the field of public policy.

He spoke about his research on nonprofits and the federal tax code. Berry said that nonprofit organizations do not use their influence to lobby legislative bodies because the law says they will lose their tax-exempt status if they do "substantial" lobbying. The Internal Revenue Service has not defined the word "substantial" so nonprofits "have to guess," said Berry, "and they guess on the low side."

In his research, Berry found that nonprofit groups do not understand what they can or cannot do in regard to lobbying. "To say they are ignorant of the law is to underestimate them. They think the 501c3 (the tax code that establishes nonprofits) is even more restrictive than it is. The tax code is a very powerful socializing agent as it socializes them to be quiescent."

The result, said Berry, is that the most vulnerable in society—children, people without health insurance, battered women, frail elderly and others—"are poorly represented in the political system if they are represented at all…it's not just poor regulation, it's unjust."

The Skuse Chair is one of 32 endowed professorships throughout the university that have been created during the $600 million Tufts Tomorrow campaign. An endowed chair, the hallmark of an exceptional university, is bestowed upon Tufts' most distinguished faculty. The endowment helps pay the professor's salary, thereby freeing up funds in the university budget for student financial aid and other critical needs.