Norman I. Silber, associate dean for research and faculty development and professor of law, served as an invited expert for the roundtable “Birth of a Sector: The Tax Reform Act of 1969 at Fifty.”
Organized by the Rockefeller Archive Center, the conference took place on Dec. 3-4 at the Rockefeller Archive Conference Center in Pocantico Hills, New York.
Professor Silber participated in a session in which lawyers and legal scholars reflected upon implementation of the Tax Reform Act and the continued changes since 1969.
His fellow discussants were Nishka Chandrasoma, vice president, secretary, and general counsel at the Ford Foundation; Paul Feinberg, senior counsel at the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and former assistant general counsel at the Ford Foundation; Sheila Avrin McLean, former associate general counsel and board appointed officer, former South Africa program officer, and former assistant general counsel at the Ford Foundation; and Douglas Varley, a member at Caplin & Drysdale and an adjunct professor, Georgetown University Law Center. The moderator was James Ferris, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy and Emery Evans Olson Professor of Non-Profit Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.
About the Conference
The Tax Reform Act of 1969 represents a signal moment in the birth and development of the “Third Sector.” While historians debate the origin story, to many scholars and practitioners alike, 1969 was the beginning of a robust regulatory framework with ramifications for today’s philanthropic work. During the decade-long implementation of the new legislation, scholars, foundation professionals, and policymakers increasingly began to articulate the necessity of a third, or nonprofit, sector as a balancing element to the public and for-profit sectors — indeed as a balancing force necessary for democracy. Fifty years later, the regulatory framework established by the Act is often taken for granted. The Act and its impact have been studied by historians, legal scholars, and policy analysts, but many more rich veins for research remain untapped. This convening aims to bring together a core group of individuals who have been committed to understanding the Act and its legacy, the transformative effect it has had on the third sector, and the relationship of the sector to private wealth, American public life, and the common good. The convening’s invitees span the fields of law, policy, history, and foundation practice, and have never been brought together before.
At the same time, the Archive Center itself plays a role in Third Sector transparency and accountability. As the repository of the archival records of some three dozen foundations and civil society organizations, the RAC is uniquely positioned to foster scholarship and deep engagement with historical episodes that may provide lessons for the present.
This conference brings together four expert groups: lawyers, scholars, policy/sector professionals, and program officers. The conversation possible among these groups is distinctive in that it mobilizes expertise and in many cases lived experience dealing with legal structures, ideological frameworks, and philanthropic practice. We anticipate that the primary outcome of this meeting will be a refreshed research agenda that not only adds to historical understanding but also takes into account the current and forecasted challenges the sector must face. We intend to self-publish a proceedings that we hope will be widely read throughout the sector and fittingly mark the fiftieth anniversary of the still-relevant Act.