Taubman Center founder dies at 71

Anton guided U.'s public policy concentration in early years

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Internationally recognized political scientist Thomas Anton, the founding director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and a professor of public policy, passed away June 6 from pneumonia. Anton, who served as director of the Taubman Center from 1984 to 2000, had been battling cancer in recent months.

Anton also served as chair of the Board of Commissioners of the Providence Housing Authority and was founder-director of The Providence Plan, a non-profit community organization started in 1992.

Born in Massachusetts in 1934, Anton earned his bachelor’s degree at Clark University and received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1961. Anton taught at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, where he served as director of Michigan’s Institute of Public Policy Studies. He joined Brown’s faculty in 1984 and, in addition to his position as Taubman Center director, was dean of the faculty in 1990-91 and served as vice chairman of Clark University’s Board of Trustees.

“I was very impressed with him when he came from the University of Michigan,” said Professor of Political Science Darrell West, who succeeded Anton as the center’s director in 2000. “He’s one of those individuals with a very broad vision and he saw the potential to put the (Taubman) Center on the map, and spent the last 20 years following up on that.”

West was hired in 1983, the year before Anton was hired by the University to head up what was then a brand new public policy concentration at Brown.

Jon Rozoff ’85, today a partner at a consulting firm in New York City, was the first person to receive a public policy degree with honors from the University. Rozoff met Anton in the spring of 1983, his sophomore year, and Anton later served as his honors thesis advisor. The two kept in close contact for the 21 years after Rozoff graduated.

“What he wanted to do in creating a public policy concentration was an exact match for what I had been doing and wanted to do. His list of prerequisites read like my transcript … a perfect combination of multi-disciplinary inquiry and academic rigor, theory and empiricism,” Rozoff wrote in an e-mail to West later received by The Herald.

Today, the public policy department has graduated over 600 students, including current U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal ’92, R-La.

Anton was loved as a professor for being personable with his students – challenging them to squash matches, making wagers on upcoming football games and even commenting on the various female companions Rozoff brought to the Trinity Repertory Company on weekends, where they sometimes crossed paths during Rozoff’s time at Brown.

“(I’m) struck now by the perspective then: early in his tenure, a good beginning at Brown, promise for the future – looking back is bittersweet: he did so much, he will be missed,” Rozoff wrote in the e-mail.

Anton officially retired from the University in 2000, though he continued to teach one course each year until illness prevented him from doing so. “He stayed very active in the center all the way up until the end,” West said.

Anton was known for his groundbreaking studies of federalism, authoring or co-authoring 14 books and over 50 articles in scholarly journals. He was a leader in compiling large data systems to track the flow of money among local, state and national governments and one of the first scholars to use that data to reveal patterns of federal policy.

His 1989 book titled “American Federalism and Public Policy: How The System Works” won the prestigious Gladys M. Kammerer Award, presented by the American Political Science Association. The book discusses a concept Anton coined the “benefits coalition,” through which successful policy initiatives allow like-minded people to come together. Anton considered this concept to be the basis of federalism. In 2000, Anton received the Distinguished Federalism Scholar award from the APSA for his significant contributions to the field.

Anton was a past editor of the journal Policy Sciences and recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including a Fulbright Fellowship, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and sponsorship by the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the government of Sweden through its John F. Kennedy Fellowship.

Anton’s dedication to the city of Providence, evidenced through his work at The Providence Plan and involvement with the Providence Housing Authority, came naturally to him, said Patrick McGuigan, who has been executive director of The Providence Plan since 1995 and is a visiting lecturer in public policy at Brown.

“One of the things that I got to realize about Tom is he’s a city guy – he was born and raised in Worchester, he was raised in working class and he never forgot his roots. Opportunity was a part of what he thought was important. … He took issues of race and class very seriously and thought cities were going to fight and win that battle,” McGuigan said.

“He meant so much to Brown, he meant so much to me. First and foremost a great scholar, always a great guy. He was always so dynamic. He lives on as a vital force, though consigning him to memory is a sad and difficult adjustment,” Rozoff wrote.

A memorial service will be held for Anton at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Manning Chapel, with a reception to follow immediately at the Taubman Center.

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