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The Inauguration of John C. Knapp, Ph.D., 13th President of W&J

Created: October 24, 2017
Last Updated: September 1, 2020

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John C. Knapp, Ph.D., was inaugurated Oct. 19, 2017 in Olin Fine Arts Center on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College. He is the 13th president of the College.

In his words: Excerpts from the inaugural address of President John C. Knapp, Ph.D.

“I am honored and humbled by the trust you have placed in me. It is a distinct privilege to serve with you at Washington & Jefferson College – a place whose storied past is but the prologue to even brighter and more promising years ahead. I wish to express my personal gratitude to the Board of Trustees and the members of the Presidential Search Committee. At this moment, I feel a bit like our former President James Moffatt, who began his inaugural remarks in the year 1881 by saying, “You took a risk in offering me this position . . . .” Well, in his case anyway, the risk paid off as he went on to serve the College with distinction for 33 years. I am thankful, as well, for the leadership of my predecessor Tori Haring-Smith, and the many contributions of former presidents Brian Mitchell and Howard Burnett, both of whom are with us today.”

. . . .

“One might imagine that this occasion is all about one person. So I feel compelled to stress that today is first and foremost the inauguration of a new season of possibilities for all of us.”

. . . .

“I am proud that Washington & Jefferson College remains true to the higher purposes of higher education. This may seem to put us at odds with many of today’s public policy-makers and media pundits who speak of college education only as a private good – a means of achieving individual success, often measured solely by future earnings. To be sure, the professional achievements of generations of our graduates attest to the fact that we produce these outcomes exceptionally well. Yet it is equally true that our alumni, past and present, have a long and inspiring record of serving the public good in every walk of life. By cultivating uncommon integrity and responsible citizenship, we are serving society and giving our graduates something infinitely more valuable than a mere ticket to a trade. We will be guided by this timeless mission as we chart our course in an era when private liberal arts colleges face pressures from stiffening competition, changing demographics, and greater demands to contain costs and demonstrate value. I have no doubt that W&J will successfully meet these challenges, but we must be willing to adapt and innovate in order to stay at the forefront. After all, the same is true for our students whose long-term success will depend on their ability to keep learning and adapting as the pace of change accelerates throughout their lifetimes. Soon we will begin a collaborative process to develop a bold, new strategic plan to guide us forward. For now, though, I will simply point to three commitments that should undergird any plans we make. The first is that W&J must always be distinguished as a college whose graduates are known for their personal integrity and social responsibility. In our close-knit learning community, faculty and staff mentors dedicate their lives, inside and outside the classroom, to developing the character, values, knowledge, and competencies of our students. This campus, by intention, is a space where young adults come to realize their unique potential by reflecting deeply on life’s big questions, engaging in courageous conversations about difficult issues, and valuing others who are different from themselves. This community is also the doorway to a global society, where students are broadened and challenged while tackling complex problems in real-world contexts, navigating other cultures, and practicing responsible civic engagement.”

. . . .

“The second imperative for our future success will be an uncompromising commitment to excellence in everything we do. . . . Insisting on the W&J standard of excellence is more important than ever in today’s highly competitive world of higher education. Third and finally, we must be unwavering in our commitment to a distinctive academic program grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. At some colleges and universities, the liberal arts model has been seen as incompatible with pre-professional education. Some have even argued that a narrower and more careerist curriculum is necessary to ensure employment for graduates. I am happy to say that W&J has always rejected this idea. Our academic program is led by a superb faculty – teachers and scholars – who understand that while a first job is an essential starting point, it is not a sufficient college outcome. Today’s students can expect to change jobs and even careers with unprecedented frequency during their lifetimes. This is why W&J students study in multiple disciplines and contexts, learning how to acquire new knowledge and skills for opportunities that may not even exist today.”

. . . .

“W&J is well into its third century, yet the fundamental elements of our educational model are even more relevant in a world requiring greater capacities for agile learning, effective communication, collaborative leadership, and analyzing critical issues from the perspectives of diverse disciplines. We are firmly committed to the principle that the best preparation for professional and human flourishing is rooted in the fertile soil of the liberal arts and sciences.”

. . . .

“We can be proud that Washington & Jefferson College proudly occupies a place like no other on the crowded landscape of American higher education. I close with the words of former President Simon Baker, spoken at his inauguration 95 years ago: “For the nation and the world we maintain this institution. . . Our history bears a halo of excellence, refinement, and eminence, and that is an incentive for us as we face the future.”

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