This week, the University announced that Steven Knapp, provost from Johns Hopkins University, will succeed Stephen Joel Trachtenberg as GW’s top administrator. Knapp, an English professor with an academic background, has already become familiar with the presidential search committee – he now needs to take the next few months to get to know the University.
Indeed, some who have followed the recent appointment expect great things out of GW’s next president. Knapp has been described as an adroit fundraiser, and he has expressed a desire to transform GW into a top-quality research institution.
With the promise of Knapp’s arrival, there are differences that may make some uneasy about the prospect of change. The incoming president is described as a soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes individual, a stark contrast to Trachtenberg’s gregarious style and high visibility. Furthermore, Johns Hopkins is a well-established university that has completely different characteristics when compared to GW.
Many members of the GW community expected the presidential search committee to take until next semester to make a final decision. This announcement before winter break provides a valuable opportunity for Knapp to use the next semester to learn the intricacies and unique issues facing the University.
GW has an extensive bureaucracy, with a plethora of different departments with unique concerns. Knapp should devote his time to frequent meetings, reaching out to a broad cross section of University staff members. While the University president is not involved in the minutiae of every aspect of the school, it certainly helps to have a background in the major issues facing each department. First-hand interaction with faculty and staff will also help earn professors’ hearts and minds before Knapp assumes his role at GW.
Another major aspect of outreach deals with the student body. Knapp’s toned-down demeanor may come as somewhat of a shock to students used to an outspoken and highly engaged president. GW’s next leader should take time over the next semester, perhaps through town hall meetings, to reach out to students and give them a chance to get to know him.
Knapp will come to GW with an impressive list of skills and accomplishments. In order to put these to use in a way that benefits GW, however, the incoming leader should spend the next several months getting his feet wet in all aspects of the University operations. In preparation to come to such a unique institution, Knapp’s greatest challenge might indeed take place before he assumes his position.