University President Steven Knapp’s contract renewal last Friday was a quiet, controversy-free affair – a stark departure from the buzz that accompanied his arrival four years ago. This was an appropriate way to herald in six more years of Knapp after four successful years of his presidency, which has been marked by exciting change and development at the University.
Knapp spent the first four years of his tenure working to lay the groundwork on the task the University’s Board of Trustees hired him to spearhead. Under Knapp’s purview, the University has dramatically shifted toward becoming more research-oriented, a fact most visibly demonstrated by the construction of the Science and Engineering Hall. Knapp was also brought to GW with the goal of fundraising prodigiously for the University, and has made good on that pledge: The University raised a record $113.5 million last year and is further devising an aggressive, long-term fundraising plan.
As Knapp looks toward his next six years in office, it is now time for him to broaden his focus and help establish in other areas the same promising changes the community has seen with research and fundraising.
By no means should Knapp cease to focus on critical issues such as fundraising and research. He will be instrumental in the continuing success of raising the University’s research profile and establishing a successful fundraising operation in the years to come. But now that these initiatives have been firmly established or will be solidified with the impending strategic plan, it is time for Knapp to delegate these issues and start new projects.
Parts of the student body have felt disconnected from the president because they believe he does not take time or effort to connect with them. Save for a few notable exceptions, such as when he joined the student body in the GW-Georgetown snowball fight in 2010 or played in the Colonial Brass band at Colonials Invasion, Knapp has largely avoided the public eye of students.
This has created a belief that he might be somewhat out of touch with student needs, concerns and interests. It is critical for the student body to feel as though they have a working relationship with the University president and administration. While he can’t be endlessly available for meet-and-greets with the community, the president sets the tone for the relationship between the administration and students.
Similarly, as alumni relations are a priority of Knapp’s, helping foster a greater sense of GW affinity among the community is critical. At a time when the University is starting a rebranding campaign and attempting to make its image even more accessible, Knapp must ensure that the University does not become so embroiled in its research endeavors that it dismisses what makes a school famous beyond the classroom.
That’s why Knapp should become more involved in the athletics program and help foster a stronger department. With a new athletic director and strategic plan for the department, sports can become a new exciting face for the University. Knapp has a prime opportunity to truly invigorate the athletics program, which will undoubtedly excite alumni and further put GW on the map.
He should also work to trim some of the impenetrable public affairs system the University currently has. Under his purview, the University is moving swiftly and dangerously away from being a transparent institution. Students and families pay tuition to the University, and they deserve to know where their money goes. Students and families trust in campus security, and they deserve to know when there are changes to the policing figures. Ultimately, engagement is beneficial for both the University and the community, as it leads to a more informed campus.
Knapp has spent the last four years with a keen focus on ensuring that GW climbs in the rankings and improves academically. It is now time for him to take the whole University into consideration. With his contract renewed until 2017, the community is at the heart of a decade of Knapp. GW is at a crossroads, and in this critical time for the University, hopefully Knapp will help it see even more growth and recognition.