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Though he gave no money to the GOP, Roy L. Austin had a better way to become ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. He was a classmate of President Bush at Yale University and a fellow member of its elite Skull and Bones society.

Austin, associate professor of sociology at Penn State and interim director of the new Africana Studies Research Center, said that he and Bush have stayed in touch since college but declined to characterize the extent of their friendship.

"Someone has to know you are out there and that was how they knew about me," Austin said in a brief interview.

He said the State Department had advised him to make no public comments prior to his confirmation hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Although Austin is a registered Republican according to Centre County voting records, he has not been active in local politics. He contributed no money during the 2000 campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.

He does have ties to the Caribbean region. Austin was born and raised on an island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Trinidad and Tobago, located on two islands in the Atlantic Ocean near Venezuala, has a population of 1.1 million people.

Most people appointed to become ambassadors have usually given

money to the candidate in office or the political party, said Paul Light, a specialist on presidential personnel at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"This is a real man-bites-dog story. Ambassadorial appointments are generally reserved for the wealthy. When you see this, you say, 'Great!' because someone who knows something about the region got it," Light said.

Austin's research has included the sociology of the Caribbean and racial inequity in criminial sentencing.

Bush's first 35 non-diplomatic appointments to ambassadorial positions contributed an average of $141,110 to him, Republican candidates and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

Austin and Bush graduated from Yale in 1968. They were members of Skull and Bones, a secret society that has long been a breeding ground of American social and political leaders.

Its alumni include former Presidents George Bush and William Howard Taft, and H.J. Heinz II, who ran his family's Pittsburgh-based food company from 1941 to 1965.

Members of the all-male organization take vows of secrecy about its activities and Austin declined to discuss it.

Light said the Skull and Bones connection is a "perfectly wonderful way to master the science of getting a presidential appointment. It's limited because not many people can join groups like that and fewer people can get to know the future president."

— Staff and wire reports