Alumnus Spotlight: Bob Klausner
Alumnus Spotlight: Bob Klausner (University of Florida) recently spoke with Executive Director Ian Lowe reflecting on his experience with Pilam, how it has shaped him into the successful attorney he is today, and why he felt compelled to give back to Pilam. Bob was initiated in 1971 and was chosen from all of Pilam nation as the 1974 recipient of the Rafer Johnson Award (top undergraduate of the year). While a student he served as IFC President. Professionally, he leads the law firm Klausner, Kaufman, Jensen & Levinson and specializes in the representation of public employee pension funds. His full professional bio is listed here. Ian’s questions and Bob’s responses are below.
IL: What attracted you to Pilam at UF?
BK: I was a legacy. My older brother and cousin were members, so I learned about Pilam that way. My mother was a sorority woman, and my daughters went onto join sororities and marry fraternity men, so there’s definitely a history of Greek Life in our family.
Pilam specifically attracted me because not only were they open to Jewish men like me, they were open to men of different religions, races, and different economic backgrounds. The Chapter had very high grades, but also had A LOT of fun. Intramural sports were important for our Chapter too.
IL: Tell me about your time at UF outside of Pilam.
BK: My time as the Interfraternity Council (IFC) President was important to me. Even being elected to that role was an accomplishment. As a Jewish guy trying to run for such a high position, I definitely experienced some prejudice, but I went around to all the fraternity houses to get their support. Growing up Jewish, I’d already experienced anti-Semitism so I was familiar with it. Thankfully, I had a diverse board with me on the IFC.
IL: What made your IFC President experience special?
BK: One is that we worked to help African American students have more opportunities to join Fraternities. While some fraternities like Pilam were open to African American men, there was only one historically black fraternity (NPHC) on campus. The IFC worked to bring three more [NPHC] fraternities to campus so that there were multiple options for students looking for such organizations.
This was important to me because there was definitely a history of segregation at UF. Times were changing though. We [leaders of the IFC] saw the need. I remember, when some of those [NPHC] fraternities came, they had practices and traditions that were different than what our community was used to. Some people were negative about that and questioned them. We [the IFC] stood up for those [NPHC] groups and asked people to try and understand the practices, traditions, etc. before jumping to assumptions.
I was also proud of the work our IFC did with supporting the community and raising funds for good causes. We raised funds for the Hippodrome theater (https://thehipp.org/). At the time, they were just a small operation working out of a storefront. We [IFC] wanted to support culture and the humanities so we raised funds so we could help this grow and become more stable, and we were successful. That helped me learn the importance of giving to non-profits in need, and that has stuck with me.
IL: How did the Pilam experience shape you into who you are today?
BK: As a freshman, I was socially immature. Not shy, just not mature as I could be. College was meant to teach us to be adults. I learned some wonderful things in the classroom, but the fraternity helped me learn how to get along in a group setting. It was really meaningful. Living in a house with 60 other guys, working together within a 130-man chapter will do that for you. The house was packed – 3 guys per room! We had to learn how to share, how to listen to each other, how to work together. These resulted in important maturing experiences. Being part of a 130-man Chapter helped me learn to find my voice within a crowd.
IL: What was it like to litigate at the Supreme Court?
BK: It was great, and I’d do it again for free. It was an extraordinary experience in how we prepared for the experience and then how it was actually presenting. The case developed over 12 years. My preparation for the Supreme Court was months long and intense. You had to know your case – all the ins and outs – and you don’t get to have a lot of materials with you while you’re in front of them presenting, so preparation was key.
With the justices, you’re very close to them proximity wise. They were unfailingly polite, they were attentive, and they were willing to listen. You were welcome to disagree with them, you just had to explain why well.
Ultimately, we won! Although I’ve only been there once, I like to tell people I’m 100% when litigating in front of the Supreme Court.
IL: That is such an accomplishment. Is that your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
BK: I’d say it is that my firm has protected the rights of working people for more than 40 years. I have ensured the rights of workers related to their retirement rights. We made sure that the people who served the community, who protected us community citizens, were then protected by me when it came to their retirements.
IL: What advice would you offer to today’s students about fraternity, leadership, and success?
BK: One is that it’s really important to have an open mind. A second is something I picked up from a retired firefighter. I was walking with him around the city hall building and I was amazed at how he seemed to know everyone – not just their names, but things about them, about their families. At one moment he’s talking with the mayor and then the next he’s talking with the guy sweeping the floor, but he treated the conversations with the same level of importance, and he knew meaningful things personally about both. This was an important reminder to me of the significance of treating everyone with respect and with dignity.
IL: You mentioned the importance of giving to non-profits and we thank you very much for your donations to Pi Lambda Phi’s Educational Foundation. I know you give to a variety of causes. Why has giving back been important to you?
BK: I once heard that “There is no wrong way to do the right thing”. That really struck me, and we’ve now adopted it into our family foundation’s purpose. Our place and purpose is to try and help others and heal the world however we can. You can do that through volunteering – which I’ve done with other organizations – and some have the ability to do that through giving. I increased my gift to Pilam because of the pandemic. I know this pandemic is eviscerating campus life right now. And, I was impressed to see the caliber of undergraduates we have, as evidenced by the postings I’ve been seeing online about our scholarship recipients. I was happy to give back.