President Dave Kaufman talks about his personal life, the challenges of leadership, and the topic of white privilege in this exclusive interview with The Chimes.
“My intent was to be a math teacher and a basketball coach,” Kaufman chuckled as he reflected on his academic background.
Kaufman attended Ohio Wesleyan University, double majoring in math and economics.
After graduating in 1981, and doing a chance interview with Connecticut General, a life insurance company, Kaufman landed a position in the company’s actuary training program.
An actuary is someone who studies and manages the risks and uncertainties that may result from an insurance company’s financial decisions. It was this very position that eventually led Kaufman to become CEO of Encova Insurance, a role he held for 30 years.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Capital found itself faced with unprecedented financial challenges, and a vacant president position left by former President Beth Paul.
Kaufman had heard about Capital through several friends who had attended the university. With Kaufman being a Lutheran, he also identified with the school’s religious roots.
“I’m Lutheran, and I was really familiar with Capital,” Kaufman said. “When I started talking with the board and the search committee, it became apparent that my corporate expertise might align really well with Capital’s challenges.”
According to an email sent from Kaufman, the pandemic was projected to cause a $9.6 million financial impact on the university. This prompted the university to create the Position and Structure Review Committee, an action that eventually led to the reduction of 69 positions at Capital.
In early August, word started to spread that certain faculty members at Capital had left, both voluntary and involuntary. According to the university, these cuts were made based on positions and not an individual’s job performance.
“You always want the impact on your teammates to be the last thing,” Kaufman said while describing the reasoning behind the staff reductions, “You want to exhaust everything else before going there, but it’s such a big piece of any organization that you have to go there in some way.”
This situation triggered some backlash from students, especially over the sudden absence of Jennie Smith, the former Dean of Students. This was one of the positions that the university felt needed to be restructured to fit the budget.
Another controversial situation that Kaufman has found himself in is his response to the Kyle Rittenhouse shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Five days after the shooting, Kaufman released an email to students and staff talking about systemic racism and white privilege.
In the email, Kaufman states, “As someone who has benefitted from a life of white privilege, if I feel such loss, how much more loss must be felt by Black people and other people of color?”
This email was brought up during the interview, and Kaufman elaborated on what he was trying to communicate.
“I have a lot of Black friends, and I’ve watched some of the challenges and situations that they’ve been put in and I have not,” Kaufman said. “You hear ‘all lives matter,’ and it’s not like we’re evaluating one life over another, but the fact is that black lives are the ones at risk right now.”
Kaufman believes that situations like this are what leaders have to naturally come up against.
“I know people are somewhat supportive, and others will disagree,” Kaufman said, “but that’s just a part of leadership.”
Outside of his time working at Capital, Kaufman says he enjoys spending time with family, playing golf, running marathons, and reading spiritual and leadership books by such authors as Rick Warren and Bob Buford.
“I start a lot of books, I don’t finish a lot of books. What I find is that okay out of twelve chapters, five resonate with me, and I just kind of go to that, so I might be kind of weird,” Kaufman laughed.