Johns Hopkins Provost Steven Knapp to be GW’s 16th president

Click to view timeline of Knapp’s journey to the presidency.

GW’s Board of Trustees unanimously confirmed Steven Knapp, a senior administrator at Johns Hopkins University, as the successor to University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

The trustees – who comprise the highest-governing body at GW – held a conference call Friday to approve the top choice of the Presidential Search Committee, Trachtenberg said Monday afternoon. Knapp, a senior vice president of Academic Affairs and provost of Johns Hopkins, will be GW’s 16th president.

Knapp came to Foggy Bottom Tuesday to officially accept his appointment in the Jack Morton Auditorium. He said he is a good match for the University because of “experiences, interests and desires” common between him and GW.

“I can’t tell you what an honor it is and what a privilege to follow as the 16th president of The George Washington University …” Knapp said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference. “I cannot imagine a more exciting place to come today to be a student, I cannot imagine a more exciting place to come to be a faculty member, and I relish the opportunity to participate in taking that achievement to its next level of greatness.”

GW’s next president served in his current position as the chief academic official at Johns Hopkins for the past 10 years. He was previously the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences for two years, arriving in Baltimore in 1994.

Knapp joined Johns Hopkins after 16 years on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. He was a leader in the English department – serving as acting chair at one point – and specialized in literary analysis and British Romantic literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. Knapp received his B.A. from Yale University in 1973 and earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University.

He lives on a farm in Sparks, Md., and commutes about a half-hour south to work. The 55-year-old is married to Diane Knapp and has two children – son Jesse, 23, and daughter Sarah, 21. The academic and self-proclaimed animal-lover’s extracurricular activities include caring for his 15 sheep – one of which won a prize fleece in this year’s Maryland State Fair – and trying to get his Australian shepherd, Peppy, to herd the sheep, which he does “not as much as we like.”

Top goals of GW’s 16th president include elevating the academic stature of the University, increasing its fundraising, improving connections with alumni and fostering better relations between the University and the community. Knapp said he will work to raise GW’s national prominence, drawing upon the research triumphs at Johns Hopkins and a capital campaign yielding hundreds of millions of dollars for the university’s liberal arts college.

“(GW is) in the position where it is poised to enter the first rank of American research Universities and to move fully into its sphere of greatness as an international institution,” said Knapp, who praised his predecessor’s work on several occasions.

“He’ll do terrific,” Trachtenberg said Monday. “He’s been a terrific provost – everyone’s said that – and an excellent professor before that.”

“I’m very excited, very pleased … I’m honored by his decision to come. I think his appointment reflects well on my own term in office,” he added.

Trachtenberg, 68, announced his retirement last spring, to be effective July 2007, at which point he will have served 19 years as the University’s chief executive. His contract is set to expire then, and as GW’s third longest-serving president, he thought his tenure should come to an end. “I just felt like it was time,” Trachtenberg told The Hatchet the day he announced his retirement.

Charles Manatt, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the presidential search process went very smoothly.

“This is the best presidential search that has been carried out in a very long time by any University,” Manatt said Monday. “That’s credited to a fine committee and chairman and the record set by the university president. It all fit together very well.”

The search process began soon after Trachtenberg’s retirement announcement in April. The Board of Trustees selected a 14-person Presidential Search Committee to choose the new president. The committee consisted of nine trustees, three professors, the Alumni Association president and the Student Association president.

The Board of Trustees originally charged the search committee with submitting the top three candidates by January 2007.

A series of “Visions” forums at GW and outside D.C. solicited input on the presidential search from the many constituencies affected by a new leader. Faculty, students, staff, alumni and Foggy Bottom residents weighed in at these town-hall-style meetings conducted by the Board of Trustees Task Force on Advancement. In addition to seeking opinion on the next president, the forums aimed to develop 10- and 20-year plans for the University.

Jeanette Michael, a member of the Board of Trustees and a task force member, said the vision statement will act as a guide for the new president. “When the new president is selected, that president will have a clear idea of where we would like the University to go,” she said in September.

Knapp said he will continue the use of open forums, so he can meet the GW community and absorb advice from students, faculty, staff and alumni on how to improve the University.

In typical Trachtenberg form – half raconteur, half seasoned veteran of higher-education administration – the outgoing leader compared university presidencies to luxury boats.

“Somebody once told me that people who have yachts have two wonderful days: the day they buy the yacht, and the day they sell the yacht,” he said after the press conference announcing Knapp as his successor. “There are two extraordinary days in the life of a university president: the day he is named, and the day his successor is named.”

Trachtenberg said Knapp will have several weighty issues and challenges before him, including the adjunct faculty union and the dean search at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “(That) explains why I found myself skipping down the street this morning.”

-Brandon Butler and Eric Roper contributed to this report.

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