Knapp receives warm welcome from faculty, administrators

Administrators and faculty said they are happy to have a leader with a rich academic background ready to take the reins as GW’s 16th president.

Johns Hopkins University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Knapp was selected by GW’s Presidential Search Committee and confirmed by the Board of Trustees as the successor of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who will step down as top University administrator in July after nearly two decades at the post.

Academic leaders and faculty across the University expressed strong support for the pick.

“Whoever is president will have to put a significant effort into fundraising that is targeted towards academic programs at GW,” said Donald Lehman, the executive vice president for Academic Affairs.

“I think Steve Knapp is the perfect person to build on (Trachtenberg’s accomplishments) to bring us to the top tier of research universities,” he said.

Knapp served as an English professor for 16 years at the University of California at Berkeley before joining the administration at Johns Hopkins. He has penned two books and numerous articles and is considered an expert in 18th and 19th century English literature and literary theory.

Officials from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, a school that offers 40 undergraduate departmental majors and is in the midst of its own search for a new dean, said they too are happy to see a scholar being tapped as GW’s next leader.

“Of course we are pleased that he has a strong arts and sciences background, and is a very accomplished scholar,” said Diana Lipscomb, interim dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, in an e-mail.

“But we also note that his work at Johns Hopkins as dean and then provost has also been very strong,” she added.

Knapp, who joined Johns Hopkins in 1994 as the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, has served as provost there since 1996. In his role as chief academic officer, Knapp coordinates work between Hopkins’ eight schools and in 1994 launched a capital campaign for the school of Arts and Sciences that eventually yielded $230 million and a named benefactor.

David Grier, the associate dean for academic programs in the Elliott School, said the GW presidents who have served long terms in the last 80 years alternated between the “campus builders” like Cloyd Heck Marvin (1927-1959) and Trachtenberg, and the more academically minded presidents such as Lloyd Hartman Elliott (1965-1988) and the newly selected Knapp.

“I think we’re sliding more toward an academic (president), and I think that is probably the need,” Grier said.

Under Trachtenberg, GW has seen applications for undergraduate admission rise from 6,000 to nearly 20,000 annually, and the endowment has risen from $200 million to almost $1 billion. Trachtenberg also commissioned new academic buildings such as the Elliott School of International Affairs, the School of Media and Public Affairs and residence halls New Hall, 1959 E Street, Potomac House and Ivory Tower.

Faculty leaders also said they are optimistic about the decision.

“My sense is that he is very open and that it would be very easy to carry on a conversation with him,” said Lilien Robinson, chair of the Faculty Senate. “I hope we will have a very strong shared governance.”

Robinson said that as an art history professor, she is happy to see a president with an interest in the humanities. She said that while the university Knapp hails from is more math and science-oriented, “he himself is a humanist.”

Kip Lornell, an adjunct music professor, leader of the part-time faculty unionization effort and a critic of the University administration, said he thinks the accomplishments of Johns Hopkins had a large impact on the decision to hire Knapp.

“Hopkins is doing many things GW would like to emulate … it’s what GW would like to be,” he said. Lornell also said he believes that Knapp’s experience as a professor will lend itself to a healthy relationship between the next president and the faculty.

“Knapp will have a better feel and better sense of what the faculty have to deal with versus Trachtenberg … simply because he has the experience,” he said.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said with Knapp’s English background, he’ll be on his toes in Rice Hall.

He joked: “I should sign up for UW20 to improve my ability to write memos correctly.”

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