‘Accidental’ Student Finds Success Over 50 Years

Ron Tammen ’65 calls himself an “accidental” Pacific University student.

After all, he never even applied.

“I applied to and was admitted to Willamette, pre-law,” Tammen said, as he returned to Pacific for Homecoming 2015 and his 50th reunion. “Three or four days before classes began, I was walking down the street in Portland and heard the big booming voice of Charley Trombley.”

Trombley, a Pacific alumnus and then director of admission, had been a counselor at the church camp Tammen attended in the summers.

“I knew him and he knew me,” Tammen said.

Trombley asked if he would see Tammen on campus the following Monday, and Tammen explained he was attending Willamette.

“He looked down at me — he was a very tall man — and he said, ‘No, you’re not,’” Tammen said.

Tammen protested: He hadn’t applied to or been admitted to Pacific.

“He said, ‘You let me take care of that.’ I paused, then I said, ‘OK.’ That’s how I got here,” Tammen said. “When I got there Monday, my paperwork was filled out and I was admitted. His word was good.”

Tammen wasn’t the only member of his generation at Pacific to have been personally recruited by Trombley — and the direction served him well.

At Pacific, Tammen was a member of the Alpha Zeta fraternity and the Blue Key Society.

“I made friends for life,” he said. “Life at a smaller liberal arts campus has a lot of assets for people who want to take advantage of leadership positions.”

He found a solid academic program in political science, in which he was already interested, and his faculty supported him in pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, one of the top poli-sci schools in the country.

“Pacific seemed to prepare me quite well,” he said. “I competed well at Michigan.”

After he completed his master’s, Tammen was offered a job with the CIA.

“I flew back there, sat down with the psychologist, had my polygraph and they offered me the job,” he said.

With the CIA, he was a defense analyst, contributing to the daily defense briefings for the president and secretaries of state and defense. In the meantime, he also completed his PhD at the University of Michigan.

He went on to work for Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, supporting the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, before being hired by Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin, eventually becoming Proxmire’s chief of staff.

He later went to work for the National War College, working his way up to chair of the Department of National Security Policy. In 2000, he became the first director of Portland State’s Hatfield School of Government.

He’s a leader in the emergence of China and India in global politics, and he lectures around the world about the China’s future role.

“About 15 years ago, I calculated that China was going to be the new big thing. My timing was good,” he said. “I’ve lectured on the topic, ‘Will China Rule the World?’ in a dozen countries. It’s a popular topic.”

Always diplomatic, he doesn’t answer the question outright.

“I give the reasons why they will, the reasons why they won’t, and all the reasons why all the reasons they won’t are suspect, and I let the audience make up their mind,” he said. “I challenge the audience to think rather than give an answer.”

Tammen is on sabbatical this year, and though he’s keeping plenty busy (“The joke goes, ‘I’ve promised one-third of my time to six different organizations.”) he’s also got flexibility for some things he’s been missing, like reconnecting with old friends.

“I’m really glad to be able to be here,” he said of the Homecoming celebration. “I’ve seen some people from my class and stayed in contact by email, but it’s fun to see people face to face.”

Pacific, he said, is still looking as good as it did when he made the last-minute decision to attend as a student.

“The campus looks good. There’s still a nice feel,” he said. “I’m impressed.”

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