W&J goes to Michigan to find its new president
Board approves hiring leader of Hope College
The Washington & Jefferson College Presidents on Friday announced that they have a new president.
John C. Knapp, current president of Hope College in Holland, Mich., was selected after a nearly yearlong search from among 150 applicants.
Mr. Knapp, 57, won’t be officially installed as W&J president until Aug. 1 and plans to continue working at Hope College until then.
He has been president of Hope since 2013, and previously served as a professor and a founding direc-tor of Samford University’s Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership. Mr. Knapp also was a professor and director of the Center of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University.
Introduced Friday during a welcoming ceremony on the W&J campus, Mr. Knapp succeeds current president Tori Haring-Smith, who is retiring. Appointed in 2005, Ms. Haring-Smith was the college’s 12th president and the first woman at the helm.
With an undergraduate enrollment of about 3,400, Hope is larger than W&J, which has about 1,400 students. Hope is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America.
Richard T. Clark, chairman of W&J’s board of trustees, described the search as “extensive and inclusive,” and said the 40-member board unanimously approved Mr. Knapp’s selection.
“[Mr. Knapp’s] skill set, management experience in a variety of academic arenas, a strong record of partnering effectively with faculty, a deep commitment to strategic and ethical leadership, and deep commitment to the liberal arts make him a superb fit for W&J and the larger Washington & Jefferson community,” Mr. Clark said.
Mr. Knapp dealt with a controversy last year at Hope College.
According to the publication Inside Higher Ed, the nine-member executive committee at Hope was considering firing Mr. Knapp in April 2016, after the college provost resigned at Mr. Knapp’s request.
The publication cited a leaked email from the executive committee, detailing its decision not to pursue his firing at that time.
“Our rationale for doing so at this time is that we believe it is in the best interests of the institution as a whole and because we are concerned about the health and unity of the board,” Hope board chairwoman Mary Bauman wrote in an email to fellow trustees about the decision to delay action, according to Inside Higher Ed.
“However, we continue to be unanimous in our serious concerns about John Knapp’s performance as president.”
Hundreds of students and faculty responded with a silent protest in support of Mr. Knapp, who later sent out a campus-wide message.
“I recognize that this is a challenging time for the Hope community as many have become aware that leaders of the college are seeking to resolve some disagreements. This process is ongoing, but please rest assured that everyone concerned is aware that uncertainty has heightened anxiety on our campus,” he wrote.
Mr. Knapp could not be reached for comment later Friday about the situation at Hope.
In an email to the Hope campus community Friday, Karl Droppers, chair of the board of trustees, wrote: “I am thankful for the four years of service John has dedicated to Hope College. As President, he has worked hard to implement many positive initiatives and programs, and Hope is a stronger and more successful college as a result.”
W&J trustee Diana Reed, who led the search committee, said Mr. Knapp is a perfect fit for the college.
“After an extensive national search, our board of trustees saw an ideal fit between his many talents and the college’s needs,” she said.
Mr. Knapp said he was honored by his selection.
“I am deeply honored to be selected ... to lead one of America’s great liberal arts institutions,” he said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to engage the entire W&J community in creating a future that will allow students to thrive as global citizens and lead with uncommon integrity in their professional and personal lives.”
Mr. Knapp has a bachelor’s degree in urban life from Georgia State University, a master’s degree in theological studies from Columbia Theological Seminary and a doctorate from the University of Wales, United Kingdom, in theology and religious studies.
He and his wife, Kelly, have five grown children and two grandchildren.