Steve Knapp Full Biography

Steve Knapp

Steven Knapp became the 16th president of the George Washington University in August 2007. His priorities include enhancing the university’s partnerships with neighboring institutions, expanding the scope of its research, strengthening its worldwide community of alumni, enlarging its students’ opportunities for public service, and leading its transformation into a model of urban sustainability.  

Dr. Knapp serves on the boards of the Economic Club of Washington; the Greater Washington Board of Trade; the Greater Washington Urban League; the World Affairs Council - Washington, DC; the National Symphony Orchestra; the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area; the Washington National Cathedral Foundation; and Al Akhawayan University in Ifrane, Morocco.  He is chair of the Atlantic 10 Conference Council of Presidents.  He also serves as an honorary adviser to the Sulgrave Manor Trust, and is a member of the senior advisory board of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness, and the jobs committee of the Federal City Council.

“More than two centuries ago, George Washington called for the establishment of a great university to forge citizen-leaders. Today, our university is the embodiment of that vision as we engage the world from this nation’s capital. We take seriously our responsibility to educate future leaders, not only for the nation but for the world.” ― Steven Knapp, President

A specialist in Romanticism, literary theory, and the relation of literature to philosophy and religion, Dr. Knapp taught English literature at the University of California, Berkeley before serving as dean of arts and sciences and then provost of the Johns Hopkins University.  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Modern Language Association.  The author of three books and numerous articles, he earned his doctorate and masters degrees from Cornell University and his Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University.

Since his inauguration in 2007, President Knapp has been dedicated to building the stature of the George Washington University as an intellectual contributor to the solution of national and global problems.  In keeping with the aspirations of the university’s namesake to educate citizen-leaders for future generations, Dr. Knapp is generating new university and student opportunities, resources and recognition to prepare GW to lead the next century of advancement in education, science, technology, the arts, public service, and policy and law.

“To strengthen our reputation and to maximize our contribution to humankind, we are insuring that our strength in policy, law, the social sciences, and business are undergirded by strength in science and engineering. That's an essential dimension of a great university in an era when changes in the economy, in global security, and even in the arts are so powerfully driven by developments in science and technology.” ― Steven Knapp, President

President Knapp presided over the building of a new Science and Engineering Hall for the Foggy Bottom Campus and additions to the 100-acre Virginia Science and Technology Campus, including a new School of Nursing and more than 71,000 square feet of new laboratory space for faculty in chemistry, physics, mechanical engineering and the health sciences.  He also presided over the building of the Milken Institute School of Public Health and a new Law Learning Center.

To solidify the university’s future as a world-class research institution, Dr. Knapp helped recruit a new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, Steven Lerman, who also was the A. James Clark Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Lerman has since departed and Forrest Maltzman now serves as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.  Dr. Knapp also helped recruit a new vice president for research, the esteemed neurobiologist Leo Chalupa and Nobel laureate Ferid Murad and his pioneering cardiovascular research.  Additionally, Dr. Knapp ushered in the development of cross-disciplinary initiatives that draw on strengths in many different George Washington fields.

Our world has reached a level of complexity at which problems can no longer be solved by relying on the contributions of any single discipline. At the same time, the tools of research have evolved to the point where scholars can contribute to each other's work in ways that were previously impossible.” ― Steven Knapp, President

To ensure that the university realizes its commitment to inclusiveness, Dr. Knapp formed the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion to facilitate thoughtful discourse about these multi-faceted and complex issues, and he created the position of vice provost for diversity and inclusion. Under his administration, a university-wide task force on global women’s issues was instituted to bolster empowerment and education of women, and the creation of a Global Women’s Institute was recommended.

A proponent of sustainability and alternative energy technologies, Dr. Knapp is working to elevate core university strengths at the intersection of policy and research. Under his stewardship, GW hosted the GreenGov Symposium presented by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  In addition, the GW Solar Institute was launched and a series of annual symposiums in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy was convened.

One of Dr. Knapp’s priorities is to transform the George Washington University into a model of urban sustainability. Committed to sustainability in his own life as well as on campus, Dr. Knapp chose a series of sustainable solutions for renovating the historic F Street House as his residence. The university’s sustainable future, as envisioned by Dr. Knapp, is also evident in the building of a gold LEED-certified residence hall, South Hall, and a second gold LEED-certified 300-bed residence hall on the Mount Vernon Campus.

“We are transforming the university into a 21st-century version of what our namesake envisioned, by infusing our teaching with the excitement of discovery, deepening our culture of service, and becoming a model of urban sustainability.” ― Steven Knapp, President

Another initiative instituted by Dr. Knapp is the Urban Food Task Force, which supports scholarship and instruction on sustainable urban food policies, healthy eating and food preparation, and healthy and sustainable food choices. His wife Diane Robinson Knapp, who is a nutritionist, has taken a lead role in this effort and chairs the Urban Food Task Force.

To ensure that every qualified student, regardless of financial resources, can take full advantage of a George Washington education, Dr. Knapp introduced the Power & Promise program. Since he became president in 2007, annual gifts for student aid have more than doubled.  The university continues a “no surprises” tuition policy that freezes rates of tuition and scholarship aid for new students for as many as five consecutive years.

Leveraging the university’s unique geographic asset – only steps away from the halls of national and global power – Dr. Knapp has invited to campus a wide range of national and world leaders, policymakers and scholars.  In one academic year alone, the George Washington community welcomed five Cabinet secretaries, two Supreme Court justices and both the President and the First Lady of the United States.

“Being at the George Washington University as a student places you at the front row of the theater of history.” ― Steven Knapp, President

To build on the university’s proximity to many of the world’s greatest institutions and organizations, Dr. Knapp advocates partnerships that bring greater knowledge and resources to George Washington, its students and the community. Recent collaborations include:

  • A unique affiliation that brought one of the world’s foremost specialized museums, The Textile Museum, to a new George Washington University Museum, which also houses the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection and the Center for National Capital Area Studies,
  • An extension and expansion of a 100-year partnership with the Smithsonian Institution that gives students and faculty unprecedented access to the world’s largest museum complex, providing for a collaborative program in museum studies, graduate museum training programs, a joint fund for shared scholarly projects, and broader relationships between the Smithsonian and a growing number of departments within the university community,
  • An award-winning collaboration with the Greater Washington Urban League to support the League’s efforts to address health disparities, educate future leaders and create jobs,
  • A partnership with the groundbreaking political website and newspaper POLITICO to conduct the nationally recognized bipartisan George Washington University Battleground Poll, now renamed the POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll, and
  • A three-year collaboration with the Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, to offer modern art and art history courses, internships and post-doctoral fellowships.

"We must continue investing in student learning and experience, on campus and off; and we must increase our investment in the kind of discovery that will firmly establish our international stature. In short, we must increase what we invest in our students, our faculty, and the infrastructure that supports them both.” ― Steven Knapp, President

Under Dr. Knapp’s administration, the renowned public service commitments of GW students and faculty thrive.  On September 11, 2009, the George Washington University hosted an inaugural Freshman Day of Service. That same day, First Lady Michelle Obama issued a challenge.  If GW students would complete 100,000 hours of community service, she would be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2010.  In response, students, faculty, and staff performed 163,980 hours of service in nine short months.  And at the 2010 Commencement on the National Mall, Mrs. Obama urged, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Just take it global.”

The culmination was the establishment of a Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service to help develop the next generation of public service leaders.  In August of 2011, George Washington hosted the national kick-off for President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Also in 2011, Dr. and Ms. Knapp presented the inaugural Steven and Diane Robinson Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning, an award inspired by the deep commitment and community engagement of GW students.

As an integral member of the community, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help our neighbors and this vital capital city flourish. By engaging in service to the community, students also enrich their educational experience with a unique opportunity to test the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom in the laboratory of the real world.” ― Steven Knapp, President

Dr. Knapp continues to be widely published while serving as the 16th president of the George Washington University. His books include Personification and the Sublime: Milton to Coleridge, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985; and Literary Interest: The Limits of Anti-Formalism, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.

As the first George Washington president to reside on campus, Dr. Knapp shares the storied F Street House as a focal point for university life.  Since their arrival, President and Ms. Knapp have hosted hundreds of events, from student dinners to salons for discourse on issues of critical importance.

“The F Street House is remarkably situated: next to the World Bank, across the street from two student residence halls, around the corner from both the Elliott School and the Law School, and four blocks due west of the White House.  This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to live in the midst of the GW campus and experience firsthand the rhythms of campus life.” ― Steven Knapp, President

Frequently seen on walks around campus with the Knapps, their dog Ruffles is among the university community’s most popular residents.