The University pays for Diane Knapp’s travel expenses when she goes with her husband, University President Steven Knapp, on fundraising trips, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said last week.
Mrs. Knapp does not receive a salary from the University, but her travel expenses are covered when she accompanies her husband on fundraising trips. Of the six international trips Knapp has taken this year, Mrs. Knapp has gone on three of them, with trips to Asia, the Middle East and the Dominican Republic, Steven Knapp’s Chief of Staff Barbara Porter said. She has also joined him on domestic trips to New York and Florida.
Dorinda Tucker, special assistant to Katz, said there is no way to track how much Mrs. Knapp’s travel expenses total because all of the president’s travel expenses are lumped into one sum.
Porter said Mrs. Knapp travels with President Knapp when the nature of the events scheduled require her presence, and added that Mrs. Knapp’s responsibilities on the trips are to “meet with alumni, parents and their families as a part of connecting with GW’s lifelong and worldwide community.”
“Diane Robinson Knapp is a dietitian/nutritionist by training and a sheep farmer by surprise,” Porter said. “She engages in all activities solely as a volunteer.”
Mrs. Knapp did not comment for this story.
Katz said it is “very common” for wives of university presidents to receive compensation for their time hosting events and playing a diplomatic role alongside their husbands.
Nearly 24 percent of university presidents’ spouses say they receive some form of compensation from their university, according to an article published last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Paul Fain, a reporter who specializes in covering university presidents at The Chronicle, agreed with Katz.
“Generally, college presidents’ spouses are involved in fundraising much more than they used to be,” Fain said. “Some even receive salaries to ‘wine and dine.’ “
Katz compared Mrs. Knapp’s role at the University to that of the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.
“Michelle Obama is not paid anything, but she has an official role,” Katz said. “And Diane Knapp has an official role.”
Fain said he thinks the issue of the involvement of a president’s wife at a university is a controversial one and a subject that can “get [a university] in trouble.”
“The question of what’s appropriate is where the issues gets muddled,” Fain said.
Porter said Mrs. Knapp is also involved in fundraising on campus.
“Diane serves as co-host of events at the F Street House,” Porter said, referring to the Knapp residence near Thurston Hall. Porter added that Mrs. Knapp “participates in the majority, although not all, of the events at the house.”
Raymond Cotton, a lawyer at Mintz Levin law firm in D.C. who specializes in drafting contracts for university presidents, said not all universities reimburse their president’s spouse for travel expenses.
In cases in which the university does compensate the spouse, Cotton said he “recommends that the board chair reviews the president’s and the spouse’s expense account every six months,” to prevent illegitimate use of the university’s funds. Cotton said the spouse of a university should only get involved in official events when it is “beneficial to the university.”
President Knapp added that without Mrs. Knapp’s support, his job would be much more difficult.
“I feel very fortunate, and the University is also fortunate, in my humble opinion, to have someone like her serving it in a volunteer capacity,” Knapp said.
Emily Cahn contributed to this report.