A changing of the guard: GW’s leadership of the future

The names W. Russell Ramsey and Steven Knapp may not be as familiar to the GW community as Charles Manatt and Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, but soon they will be.

With the Board of Trustee’s selection of Knapp as the University’s 16th president, GW’s future leadership is almost set. Ramsey, who is likely to be selected as the next chair of the Board in February, and Knapp, who will assume the presidency in August, will guide GW through a transition that they hope will lead to academic growth.

When President Trachtenberg announced in April that he would step down after 19 years and become president-emeritus, much of the GW community was surprised, but some said it was time for change.

In October, Board Chairman Charles Manatt, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee and ambassador to the Dominican Republic, announced that he too would be stepping down.

Manatt’s announcement coupled with Trachtenberg’s solidifies a changing of the guard for GW in 2007. Ramsey and Knapp will have an opportunity to be credited with moving GW up into the top tiers of American higher education institutions.

For five years, GW has been on the brink of breaking into the U.S. News and World Report top 50 colleges in the nation. With continued endowment growth, GW could move into and begin to consistently be ranked within the top 50.

Johns Hopkins, where Knapp served as provost for more than a decade is ranked 16th in the report and GW is ranked 52 this year.

GW will face a unique set of challenges, some of which will be continuations of those the University faces now and others will be new challenges over the next two decades.

Campus development

Before Trachtenberg leaves July 31, most of the D.C. government hearings on campus development should be concluded. If all of GW’s proposals pass, then a major hurdle would be crossed.

From there, Knapp will oversee implementation of the plan. While Knapp has a lack of experience in overseeing major construction projects at Johns Hopkins, he will have resources at GW to rely on, including Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz, who has been overseeing the government’s approval of the campus plan.

While the Campus Plan can be altered, once in place and approved by the city, Knapp may not have any major construction projects to originally create. The Campus plan is a 20-year vision for GW, so projects are already largely planned for.

Endowment growth

Part of overseeing the implementation of the Campus Plan is raising funds to pay for it. Knapp reiterated several times last week his desire to reach out to the 220,000 alumni worldwide to create a network between students and alumni, which could result in alumni giving.

Before Trachtenberg leaves, GW’s endowment may break $1 billion, so Knapp’s fundraising efforts will be focused on continued endowment growth with an increase in alumni gifts.

Evolving GW into a research University

At Tuesday’s press conference, a major talking point focused on GW moving into a first-rate research University. It was one of the major reasons Ramsey said Knapp was chosen.

“If you look at the top universities in the U.S. they share a couple characteristics: they have a great research reputation and they have a great endowment. What we have that truly no one else in the U.S. or in the world has is a great location. The confluence of those three can potentially allow us to create a unique reputation that is still to be determined,” Ramsey said at the press conference.

This will be a major issue for Knapp, who is coming from the largest research university in the nation.

Another major academic-related issue will be the possible implementation of the four-by-four plan – a four-class, four-credit structure. Depending on a vote by the faculty in April, the plan could be implemented within the first couple of years under Knapp, or if voted down may be brought up again years from now.

Community relations

In Knapp’s first day as the president-elect, he stressed how he will be a listener. By drawing on his experience at Johns Hopkins reaching out to the Baltimore community, Knapp said he is ready to sit down and work with GW’s neighbors to listen to their concerns.

While speaking about how to manage community relations, Knapp said GW has many great opportunities.

“Much of that activity is only of anecdotal knowledge to the people in the community. It’s not something that’s widely visible and it’s not always easy to communicate the breadth of what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s a tremendous challenge of communication.”

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