Milton C. Cummings Jr., a distinguished scholar of
American government and an exceedingly popular professor of
political science at Johns Hopkins
for nearly 40 years, died of prostate cancer on Aug. 10 at
a son's home in New Vernon, N.J. He was 74.
For nearly four decades, Cummings offered commentary
on congressional elections, party politics and then, later
in his career, government policies on the arts. He also was
the co-author of a milestone textbook on American politics
that has sold nearly a million hardback copies.
Cummings, a former chairman of the Political Science
Department, retired from Johns Hopkins in 2004. During his
time at the university, Cummings built a reputation as one
of the Homewood campus's most beloved professors. He was
also renowned for his kindness and good-natured spirit.
Milton Curtis Cummings Jr. was born April 23, 1933, in
New Haven, Conn., and raised in the Washington, D.C., area,
after his father took a job with the federal government.
Cummings attended Swarthmore College and received his
bachelor's degree in 1954. A Rhodes Scholar, he earned a
degree in politics in 1956 from Oxford University —
where he won the Wylie Prize for an essay on Anglo-American
relations — and his doctorate in political science
from Harvard University in 1960.
At Harvard, Cummings studied under V.O. Key Jr., the
influential scholar and a former president of the American
Political Science Association. Upon Key's death, Cummings
took on the great responsibility of editing and finishing
Key's last manuscript, the landmark text The Responsible
Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting.
Cummings worked at the Brookings Institution in
Washington from 1959 until 1965, when he joined the Johns
Hopkins faculty as an associate professor. In 1968, he was
promoted to professor and served as department chairman
from 1970 to 1972.
His popularity as a professor was irrefutable. His
classes were always full and often oversubscribed. A
resident of Washington, D.C., he frequently stayed
overnight in his office on the Homewood campus during the
school year, both to minimize his commuting burden and to
enable greater interaction with students.
Richard Katz, a professor of political science who
first met Cummings in the early 1970s, said that Cummings
was astoundingly dedicated to his students, for whom he
always found time.
"I sometimes suggested we needed to find a disused
church or railway station to accommodate the crowds of
students waiting to see him," Katz said. "He took so much
time with each student. The demand simply exceeded any
normal office hours."
Katz said that students and colleagues alike had a
great fondness for the man.
"He just was an incredibly nice person, a true
gentleman," Katz said. "In these days, you normally go to a
card shop for well wishes; he would always send handwritten
Matthew Crenson, professor of political science, said
that Cummings was unfailingly kind and optimistic.
"He always managed to find and bring out the goodness
in his colleagues and students. Milt, I believe, came from
a Quaker family, and attended a Quaker college, and perhaps
that's why he was the department's premier peacemaker,"
Crenson said. "The students loved him, and he cared deeply
about them. During application season, he used to set aside
one day a week just to write letters of recommendation."
In 2001, Cummings was honored with a Student Council
Award for Excellence in Teaching. In a Gazette article
concerning the award, Matt Trezza, then a junior
international relations major, said that Cummings' warmth,
humor and character in the classroom endeared him to
"He's the sort of person you want to have as a
professor," Trezza said. "Like when you think of the
classical professor, straight from a movie, Dr. Cummings
would be a perfect example."
A nationally recognized expert on elections, he served
as an NBC News commentator on congressional elections
during the 1960s and 1970s.
He was also an author or editor of a number of
scholarly books. Notably, Cummings teamed with David Wise,
an investigative journalist and White House correspondent,
to write a warts-and-all book called Democracy Under
Pressure: An Introduction to the American Political
System, which was first published in 1971. Now in its
10th edition, the book has been used in more than 300
colleges and has sold more than 860,000 copies.
"The Democracy Under Pressure book has for
decades been one of the most successful and influential
intro-to-American-politics texts," Katz said.
A lover of the arts, especially of opera and classical
music, Cummings later combined his interests and became a
leading expert in comparative cultural policy. With Katz,
he co-edited the 1987 book The Patron State: Government
and the Arts in Europe, North America, and Japan, a
collection of essays that inspired a new generation of
scholars. He also co-edited Who's to Pay for the Arts:
The International Search for Models of Arts Support
Cummings received fellowships and grants for research
from the Social Science Research Council and the National
Science, Ford and Guggenheim foundations.
Crenson said that Cummings was an exceptional man with
a close to photographic memory.
"He could rattle off data about congressional
elections the way sports nuts can spout batting averages,"
he said. "Maybe it was his memory that made it possible for
him to function in his office. It was so cluttered with
piles of paper that only a narrow path remained between his
desk and the door. But he seemed to know where everything
was. I suppose that his office was just as retentive as his
Cummings' survivors included three children,
Christopher, Jonathan and Susan; and nine grandchildren.