SPARKS, Md. – Steven Knapp becomes University president Aug. 1 and until then, GW spokespeople have vowed he will stay out of the limelight. But June 16, Knapp hosted student media at his rural Maryland farm and said he is undecided on moving into Alumni House and the four-by-four plan may be “a big step to take across the board.”
After spending a career in academics, many have touted Knapp as an academic-centric administrator. The current Johns Hopkins provost will enter GW amid a battle for its academic roadmap. Administrators and faculty have batted around a plan that would call for the University to shift to a four class, four credit curricular structure. Knapp said he is undecided on the topic.
“I certainly don’t have a position on (four-by-four),” Knapp said. He said he has discussed the plan with administrators, faculty and members of GW’s Board of Trustees. “I have to learn more about current curricular structure, and what the pros and cons might be because I think this is a big step to take across the board.”
In addition to exploring the benefits or detriments of a four-by-four structure, Knapp said he is open to a thorough review of all current undergraduate curricula. Next year GW’s academic structure will be subject to external review through a reaccreditation process.
Knapp also stressed the importance of cross-curriculum collaboration among GW’s various schools.
“Increasingly, to get federally sponsored programs for research, you’ve got to show that you’re operating beyond the boundaries of a traditional discipline and putting together an innovative program,” Knapp said.
Partnering the School of Engineering and Applied Science with the School of Medicine is one example of how Knapp said he hopes to work with deans from GW’s various schools to improve interdisciplinary relations.
One of Knapp’s foremost priorities as University president will be forging better relationships with GW alumni, especially the almost 70,000 alumni who live in the D.C. area, he said.
“One of the advantages I think we have is there are so many alumni who live in the vicinity (of GW),” he said. “They’re not necessarily people originally from the area, but they came to GW and stayed because they got connected with the greater Washington area and became part of the community.”
Though Knapp said he recognizes the value of engaging local alumni, he said he also plans to visit alumni at a number of cities around the country, travel he described as similar to a six-city tour he took for Johns Hopkins.
Knapp said he hopes to hold town hall meetings with alumni to better understand their thoughts on where GW is and what they hope the University will achieve in the future.
“You can always guess what people would like to do and try to get them to do it, but it’s sometimes more fruitful to hear from them what their perception of GW is, and if they’re aware of GW and how it’s changed since they were students.”
Knapp said he is looking not only at the actual benefits and detriments of fixed tuition but also at how parents and students perceive the idea of the stagnant price tag.
“It’s clear that there are tradeoffs,” he said of GW’s $50,000 tuition. “When people see the headline and the sticker price that’s all they focus on. They don’t read the next paragraph where it says ‘Oh yeah, by the way, when you take all four years into account, it’s not ranked number one.'”
Knapp added that fixed tuition was debated during his time at Johns Hopkins, but that Johns Hopkins never accepted the proposal because of the need to charge students and families a high initial cost.
Knapp addressed an internal study of Student and Academic Support services that showed a high level of job dissatisfaction among the department’s employees.
“I’ve always been interested in making the staff feel like they are a part of the institution, just as the faculty are, just as the students are,” he said. “If one part of the community feels (dissatisfied), then I think it does have ripple effects across the entire institution.”
The GW community
Over the past few months, there has been much discussion of Knapp’s potential move into the Alumni House at 20th and F streets, but Knapp said that a final decision has not yet been reached.
Knapp said he is “taking a look” at moving into the building, but said he is still weighing the house’s historic importance and the extent of renovations needed and the building’s current use by student groups.
In the meantime, Knapp said he and his wife plan to move to a small apartment that will likely be near, but not on, campus. His son Jesse, 23, already lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and his daughter Sarah, 21, will likely stay at the farm and care for the family’s many animals.
Knapp said he would not mind living in Alumni House, which is on the same city block as Thurston Hall.
“That’s just living in the city,” he said with a shrug.
Knapp said he spoke with some small groups within the University since being named president earlier last year. He said he did not want to hold school-wide forums, as the University previously advertised.
“I think it’s much better to hold forums as (University) president,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re not just doing it for the sake of doing it.”
Knapp said he intends to hold GW community forums this fall and plans to use knowledge gained through the forums when formulating University policy. He will not sit on the sidelines as University president, he said.
“I plan to be actively engaged . There are going to be issues that are going to need decisions,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I already have preconceptions.”