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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 11, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 14
Steven Knapp to Head George Washington University

Steven Knapp
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 stage.

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 JHU.

"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 Knowledge for 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 Urban Health Institute, the Diversity Leadership Council and the University Committee on the Status of Women.

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 Institute for Nanobiotechnology.

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 intellect.

"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 to 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 schools.

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 education."

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 entrepreneurial freedom.

"I'm going to miss that," said Knapp, adding that he will also miss his working relationship with President Brody.

"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 with which you and your work are regarded in the academic world."

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.


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