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Roy Kaufmann always lands on his feet.

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0f4f7bfRoy Kaufmann always lands on his feet.

Or, as he puts it: “If I had a superpower, it would be the power to parlay.”

I caught up with Kaufmann this morning at Marco’s Café in Multnomah Village, a hop and a skip from his new employer, Lewis & Clark.

The last time I saw Kaufmann was in January at the Oregon Business Summit.  I was sitting on the floor of the Convention Center ballroom, laptop plugged into an electrical outlet, listening to Gov. Kitzhaber deliver the keynote speech.

Kaufmann, then Kitzhaber’s speechwriter, plopped down next to me, delivering — in hushed tones — a meta-commentary on the governor’s rhetorical style and preferred literary references. (Wallace Stegner, I believe, was out. William Kittredge was in.)

One month later Kitzhaber was gone. And Kaufmann was out of a job. “Totally surreal.”

Over an omelette and toast, Kaufmann relived those last days. Like many staff, Kaufmann learned Kitzhaber was resigning only 90 minutes before the erstwhile governor delivered his formal announcement. “In hindsight, it should have been clear,” Kaufmann says. 

But Kaufmann, a former spokesperson for Mayor Sam Adams, must have sensed the jig was up. The week before the governor’s 4th term came crashing down, Kaufmann cold-called a marketing director at Reed, who alerted him to a new employment opportunity: Director of Public Relations at Lewis & Clark.

He got the job.

Is the ivory tower a respite from the cutthroat world of politics? 

Not exactly.  “Universities are political environments,” Kaufmann says. The faculty, full and part-time, staff, donors, administrators and students are all very smart — and very opinionated.

Kaufmann’s experience managing diverse stakeholders is a good fit for higher education administration.

His curious mind also makes him a good fit for a liberal arts institution.

“Do you know we share much of our gene pool with yeast?” asks Kaufmann. He was mulling toast options — sourdough versus whole wheat — a comparison that prompted a recap of a recent news story about our biological affinity with the micro organisms that create bread and beer.

In a world that can’t stop talking about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math education), Kaufmann is going to bat for good, old-fashioned critical thinking.

“The problems facing the world today aren’t easily fixed by people who have degrees in technology,” he says. 

The achievement gap. Erosion of the middle class. Mental illness.

“These are huge issues that require studying how the hell we got here. And the way you find that out is by learning to ask great questions, by studying history, the liberal arts and sciences.”

Kaufmann is reluctant to give credit to a competitor. But he points out that Steve Jobs went to Reed, where the most famous tech CEO in history studied calligraphy, a pursuit that inspired the line of Macintosh fonts.

Before Lewis & Clark, before Kitzhaber, Kaufmann was a vice president at Hubbell Communications, a public affairs firm that worked on the legalization of marijuana and other social change issues.

Kaufmann and his wife, Claire Kaufmann, have since founded LeOr (Illuminating US), a “passion project” nonprofit Claire runs that is dedicated to Jewish perspectives on drug reform.

Why is weed a Jewish issue? Why is Israel on the cutting edge of medical marijuana research? Read LeOr to find out.

Kaufmann says he always thought he’d land in higher ed some day.

It’s a fast-moving world. We should all be so swift to adapt.




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