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Globe-trotting professor bequeaths riches to SFSU

January 7, 2004

The following is from the 2002-2003 SFSU Report to Contributors.

Photo of Edward Burton KauffmanThe late Edward Burton Kaufmann, who taught at San Francisco State for 30 years, was a humanist with an intellect so formidable that even today his friends let out a small gasp when they speak of it.

"My dear, his knowledge of music -- absolutely inexhaustible," said Raoul Bertrand, a professor emeritus of classics and one of Kaufmann's closest friends.

Music, art, literature and philosophy -- Kaufmann did not embrace his passions so much as devour them. A Bach lover who once devoted an entire class to the composer's Mass in B Minor, Kaufmann set out in middle age to learn to play the harpsichord. "Well, being Ed, the first thing he did was build a harpsichord from scratch," Bertrand chuckled.

Kaufmann later applied the same zeal to photography, first building his own darkroom then capturing hauntingly beautiful images on his frequent travels abroad. He loved all things Italian and spent long stretches of time in the country's sunny climes. His knowledge of the Italian Renaissance was encyclopedic and his command of the language so brilliant that he was sometimes taken for an italiano, said his nephew, David Kaufmann of Colorado.

Born in suburban Chicago in 1928 to a well-to-do family of clothing manufacturers, Kaufmann had little interest in business but showed an early predilection for the arts. Even as a schoolboy, he attended the symphony and opera. He studied at the University of Chicago, taking his Ph.D. under one of the great modern philosophers, Richard McKeon.

In 1958, Kaufmann moved West to join the faculty at San Francisco State, where he taught humanities until his retirement in 1988. Having inherited family money, Kaufmann lived the academic life by choice rather than necessity. He loved teaching and students flocked to his courses, notwithstanding his rigorous academic regimen.

Long since retired, Kaufmann was preparing for a trip to Rome when he succumbed to leukemia at age 73. His sizeable estate included a beautiful penthouse on San Francisco's Lombard Street and a small but impressive collection of modern art-a drawing by Miró and lithographs by Matisse and Calder, among other pieces.

Kaufmann left his art to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, and the Achenbach Foundation, which handles prints and drawings for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

He had something entirely different in mind for the penthouse and its contents. Kaufmann's plan was to put its cash value to work in support of the College of Humanities and the thousands of students who each year major in its degree programs. His hope was that students would be able to immerse themselves in their studies free of nagging financial worries, much the way he had decades earlier at the University of Chicago.

The terms of Kaufmann's living trust resulted in $2.5 million for the new Edward B. Kaufmann Endowment for the Humanities. Kaufmann stipulated that 60 percent of annual earnings go toward student scholarships; the remainder will support the Matthew Evans Resources Room, where his photographic prints and negatives are held in a special archive, the Museum Studies Laboratory, and other activities of the College.

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