Top leaders give positive feedback

Administrators across the University widely approve of its top executive and expect his contract to be extended beyond its August expiration date.

Top officials in charge of student life, academics, finances and development praised University President Steven Knapp, who recruited many of the institution’s current vice presidents.

The Board of Trustees will determine in the next six months if Knapp’s five-year first term will be extended after August 2012.

“The Board will have an announcement before that date,” Chairman Russell Ramsey said. The next Board of Trustees meeting is Oct. 21.

The last presidential search committee formed in May 2006, more than six months before the announcement Knapp would fill the shoes of former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Despite little public discussion of the renewal by the board, the University’s highest governing body will likely decide in the next two months if they will renew Knapp’s contract or launch a search because of the time needed to conduct a presidential search.

Ramsey spoke highly of Knapp’s performance, giving credence to the widely held belief among administrators that Knapp will have his contract renewed.

“I and the Board of Trustees continue to be impressed by and supportive of President Knapp’s leadership,” he said.

Knapp, a strikingly different leader than his predecessor, has replaced many top-level officials from Trachtenberg’s time and filled the University’s senior ranks with his own hires – a common practice for a new president.

“I clearly assume [Knapp’s contract] will be renewed and it should be renewed. He’s done a great job with the institution,” Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said. “I think that’s where the Board is.”

He noted Knapp’s efforts to recruit prominent administrators and faculty, particularly Provost Steven Lerman who left his post as vice chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in July.

“In the four years [Knapp] has been here we’ve moved significantly forward,” Katz said.

Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak, who was hired by Trachtenberg more than 20 years ago, spoke highly of Knapp.

“I’m a little biased because I’m always going to be grateful to [Knapp] for allowing me to keep the job,” he said.

When choosing Knapp from a pool exceeding 100 candidates in 2006, the Board of Trustees had several priorities: improving the University’s academic reputation, expanding research programs and boosting fundraising, Chernak said.

The University raised a record $113.5 million last fiscal year and this fall scored the No. 50 spot in U.S. New and World Report’s annual rankings, its highest rating since 1998.

“By the measurements by which he was hired, I would suspect that they would conclude that we’re moving in the right direction,” Chernak said.

He added that the beginning of Knapp’s tenure was largely devoted to familiarizing himself with the University.

“I don’t think five years is enough time for a president to really develop an agenda,” he said.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger, who worked with Knapp at Johns Hopkins University, left Duke University 18 months ago for GW’s top fundraising job.

He hailed Knapp’s professional accomplishments and said the two have developed a personal relationship.

“I came here because of [Knapp]. He was universally loved at Hopkins. I think, as it relates to George Washington, he’s very much a visionary,” Morsberger said. “It’s great when you not only admire and respect your boss, but you really like him.”

Trachtenberg declined to comment on his successor’s job performance, but said he would be “very surprised if President Knapp is not renewed.”

“I think the job of ex-president is to encourage and applaud and celebrate the initiatives of a current president,” Trachtenberg said. “When I was in his office, I would have been very distressed if [former University President] Lloyd Elliott had been kibitzing me about how I was doing the job, and I don’t intend to do any kibitzing of President Knapp. I think he’s got a noble vision, and I pray for his success.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.