Like most drummers, Steven Knapp has been happy to
help lay down the foundation, keep the beat together, but
stay out of the limelight.
Now, Johns Hopkins' provost and senior vice president
for academic affairs (and sometime percussionist) is ready
to come out from behind his academic kit and take center
Knapp, who has served in his
current role at Johns Hopkins for the past 10 years, was
formally named the 16th president of the George Washington
University on Dec. 5. He will take office Aug. 1, 2007,
succeeding Stephen J. Trachtenberg, who has helmed the
institution since 1988.
In doing so, Knapp becomes the fourth senior Johns
Hopkins administrator in the past two years to be tapped
for the top post at another academic institution.
In a broadcast announcement to the university
community last week, President William R. Brody lauded GW's
selection and extolled Knapp's many years of service to
"This is a marvelous and well-deserved opportunity for
Dr. Knapp, and I am most happy for him. I congratulate the
trustees of George Washington, who have made an outstanding
choice," Brody said. "My happiness at gaining such an
exceptional new presidential colleague is, of course,
tempered by my regret at Steve's departure from Johns
Hopkins. We shall all be the poorer for his absence."
Knapp came to Hopkins in 1994 as dean of the School
of Arts and Sciences and was appointed the 11th provost of
The Johns Hopkins University in October 1996, after serving
in the position on an interim basis since January. He
actually wore two hats for a significant period, as he
officially held the title of dean through June 30, 1997.
As provost, Knapp has commenced many universitywide
initiatives, given special priority to the university's
role in the community and been a key player to extend the
university's global reach.
In his role as the university's chief academic officer
and No. 2 official, Knapp has coordinated the work of the
eight Hopkins schools and fostered collaboration among
them. He has also been actively engaged in fund raising,
notably the ongoing $3.2 billion
the World campaign and the capital campaign for Arts
and Sciences, that was launched in 1994 and eventually
yielded $230 million.
Specifically, Knapp has been a strong advocate for
issues related to diversity, urban health and community.
Among his list of accomplishments, Knapp helped establish
the Office of Equal
Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs, the
Health Institute, the
Council and the University Committee on the Status of
On the academic front, Knapp has been a proponent of
interdisciplinary study and championed such entities as the
Phoebe R. Berman Bioethics Institute and the
Alongside President Brody, Knapp facilitated the
creation of the
Commission on Undergraduate Education and set in motion
a process, still under way, to greatly enhance the
undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins.
More recently, Knapp lobbied intensively against
further cuts to the Joseph A. Sellinger State Aid Program,
which annually awards direct and unrestricted monies to
Johns Hopkins and 16 other independent colleges and
universities in Maryland. The program has since been
restored to its full statutory level.
Adam Falk, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences,
said that Knapp's efforts to protect the school externally
cannot be underestimated.
"He helped preserve and enhance the Sellinger program,
which is vitally important to the work that we do," Falk
said. "This is a well-deserved promotion for Steve. He has
accomplished a tremendous amount at Hopkins, and this is
the natural next step for him. And it's wonderful that he
will remain in the area. Perhaps we will see more
collaboration between George Washington and Hopkins due to
this new connection between the two schools."
Falk, who joined Johns Hopkins the same year as Knapp,
described Knapp as a quiet, clear-thinking consensus
builder with a great sense of humor — a description echoed
by other JHU administrators.
"Steve works very hard to bring everyone in the room
into agreement. That's how he leads," Falk said. "And he is
terrific in crisis, as he brings a kind of calmness to
situations that are not calm."
Paula Burger, vice provost for academic affairs and
dean of undergraduate education, agrees that Knapp shines
at some of the darkest moments. She said that Knapp has
played a major role in handling a number of crises during
his tenure at Hopkins by providing the leadership for the
teams that were dealing with the issues. He possesses a
deft touch and keen wit, Burger said, a combination that
serves him well.
"Steve can see the irony in any tense situation and
zeroes in on the foibles of people with a wonderful, and
sometimes zany, humor," Burger said.
Like many, Burger also marvels at Knapp's
"He will be a very quick study as he takes the reins
at GW," she said. "In my work with Steve, I have been
amazed at his ability to remember facts, summarize a
conversation, review a legislative hearing or report on a
meeting he'd had a week before with almost total recall. I
keep wondering when his brain is going to run out of room,
but I see no signs of it."
Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Knapp served for 16
years on the faculty at the University of California,
Berkeley, where he was a member of one of the nation's
leading departments of English.
A 1973 graduate of Yale University, he earned his
doctorate from Cornell University in 1981. He is a
specialist in 18th- and 19th-century English literature and
in literary theory.
An accomplished drummer as a teenager, he had
considered making a career in music. In fact, he was set to
enroll after high school in the Indiana University School
of Music but opted for Yale at the last moment.
At the George Washington press conference announcing
his appointment, Knapp was presented with several welcome
gifts, including a set of drumsticks that he proceeded to
twirl in his fingers with great dexterity.
He also uses that dexterity to wrestle sheep from time
He and his wife, Diane, own a sheep farm in Sparks,
Md., which they plan to keep when they move into the
president's house at GW. The couple's fleece recently took
top prize at the Maryland State Fair.
Located four blocks from the White House, George
Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in
1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher
education in the nation's capital and enrolls more than
19,000 undergraduate and graduate students in nine
Knapp recently told the George Washington University
community that he is excited about the prospect of joining
an institution that is positioned to become a world leader
in many areas of study and research.
"It's an honor and a privilege to assume the
responsibilities of president of the George Washington
University," Knapp said in the release announcing his
appointment. "It is also humbling to follow Steve
Trachtenberg, whose leadership during his remarkable tenure
has transformed the GW campus and propelled the university
to international acclaim. Thanks to his extraordinary
achievements, GW is now poised to advance into the first
rank of American research universities and to play a
uniquely powerful role in shaping the future of higher
Speaking with The Gazette last week, Knapp said that
he is pleased with the progress made during his tenure at
Johns Hopkins, in particular, the efforts to enhance
student life and community.
Knapp said that it's been an honor to work for such a
"unique" institution, which boasts an unusually high level
of academic excellence, intellectual focus and
"I'm going to miss that," said Knapp, adding that he
will also miss his working relationship with President
"I can't conceive of a better partnership than this
has been. We have different styles, but I think they have
been complementary in ways that nobody could ever have
predicted," he said.
Other Johns Hopkins senior administrators who recently
took top posts elsewhere were Daniel Weiss, dean of the
Krieger School (Lafayette College); Robert Sirota, director
of the Peabody Institute (Manhattan School of Music); and
Robert R. Lindgren, vice president for development and
alumni relations (Randolph-Macon College).
"This is the fourth time in two years that I have had
the honor of announcing that a senior leader at Johns
Hopkins has been elected president of a sister
institution," Brody said. "This extraordinary record is, of
course, a testament to their talent and experience. But it
is also, I think, a reflection on you — the faculty, staff
and students of the university — and on the high esteem
which you and your work are regarded in the academic
Knapp expects to leave the university on July 31.
President Brody said that he will announce soon the launch
of a search for the university's next provost.