Hope College installed its 12th president Dr. John C. Knapp on Friday (Oct. 4) in a ceremony marked by educational pageantry and a look to the future of the 147-year-old college.
Knapp was led into the chapel by an honor procession of Hope faculty and faculty representatives dressed in their academic robes from more than 50 U.S. universities and colleges or learned and professional societies. Hope international students carrying flags from their home countries led the group.
The institutions represented at the 2 p.m. presidential installation hailed from 13 states and four foreign nations, including India, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom, with founding dates ranging from 1636 to 1987.
Addressing the 1,000 invited guests in the historic Dimnent Memorial Chapel where presidents from the last 82 years have been inaugurated, Knapp said among the imperatives for the future of Hope College success is letting the rest of the world know about Hope’s outstanding academic and research reputation and graduate success.
“In too many of our conversations, Hope is spoken of as a regional Great Lakes college, indicating to me that we may not fully embrace our true identity as a national liberal arts college of the first order,” Knapp said. “We have earned a reputation that we have yet to claim in the national consciousness.”
He said that 94 percent of the members of last year’s graduating class had jobs or were in graduate school pursuing advanced degrees. The college also has a national reputation for its collaborative student-faculty scholarship and research.
“Hope College must be better known nationally and internationally as a destination well worth the trip,” he said.
Knapp called for the college to extend the collaborative-learning model even further, and to place even greater emphasis on interdisciplinary and inter-professional learning as well. He also emphasized the need for even greater international engagement—building on a long tradition. Hope enrolled its first international students in the 1870s, less than a decade after the college was founded.
“Dr. Isaac Wyckoff declared in his 1866 inaugural charge to Hope College’s first president, Philip Phelps, ‘This is a shrinking world, and we must learn to be at home in it.’ How much more true this is in 2013,” Knapp said. “We must design and carry out a strategy that once again sets Hope College apart as a leader in global education.”
Praising the college’s 40 consecutive years of balanced fiscal budgets, Knapp said the administration will work at keeping Hope College as affordable as possible for students.
Knapp also reflected on challenges to Hope College’s Christ-centered educational tradition and its liberal arts curriculum in a world where critics mistakenly feel the value of education is measured solely on earnings from a degree.
“All the smaller liberal arts colleges are under fire today. It is the Christian college that is facing the greatest onslaught,” said Knapp reading excerpts from the 1931 inaugural speech of Hope College President Wynand Wichers.
“These words might well have appeared in this morning’s newspaper. The relevancy of faith-based, liberal arts colleges like Hope are being seen today as quaint relics of a past age,” Knapp said.
“They have lost sight of the worth of an education that builds character, develops faith, broadens perspective and gives meaning to life and work,” he said. “Perhaps much of our society has forgotten that higher education is a public good, preparing adults for responsible citizenship in a democratic society, and not simply a private benefit for the degreed individual.”
“With higher education and the world itself changing at an ever-accelerating rate, Hope College’s time-honored, holistic student experience has never been more relevant,” Knapp said. “Our mission calls us to prepare students for leadership and service in a global society, to give them the knowledge, and the perspectives of a superb liberal arts education and to do so in the context of the historic Christian faith. This is not only a commitment to our students; it’s an expectation we create with everyone we serve—families, employers, graduate institutions, the church and society itself.”
Knapp’s selection as Hope’s 12th president was announced in March and he took office on July 1.
Former Hope College Presidents Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen, ninth president from 1972 to 1987, and Dr. James E. Bultman, 11th president from 1999 until retiring at the end of June, performed the installation of the new president. Knapp also received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Hope as part of the ceremony.
Student Congress President Ashley Fraley said from her chips-and-salsa back-porch discussions with President Knapp, “he is intentional, caring and brings a flair to our campus,” noting that he also engages students in thinking deeply about their own role in the Hope experience.
“He poses questions to allow us to reflect on the type of community we hare supposed to be fostering based on the Hope College mission statement and his own desire to insure we are living into it,” said Fraley, a senior from Wellston. “And what I have come to realize from my own experience and the reflections within Student Congress is that these questions help us grow exponentially.”
She praised Knapp for connecting with students from day one.
“How many college students can say that their president tweets with them, or after first being hired invites all the students to send him an e-mail about absolutely anything,” Fraley said.
College Board of Trustees Chairperson Mary Bauman said the new Hope President is a person who will “inspire excellence in others” while creating a caring community for all students.
Present at the ceremony were members of Knapp’s family including his wife Kelly and their five children Amanda, Tracy, Charlie, Mary and Ronnie, his son-in-law, Brian, his mother Grace and a new granddaughter, Sophia.
Knapp’s leadership experience includes higher education and business, and his scholarship includes multiple books and articles on leadership ethics, issues in higher education, and the intersection of faith and work. Immediately prior to coming to Hope, he had served since 2008 at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., where he was founding director of the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership and the University Professor and Mann Family Professor of Ethics and Leadership.
The inauguration ceremony at Dimnent Memorial Chapel was carried on a live television feed of the event to overflow crowds at Winants Auditorium in Graves Hall next door.
Audio of Dr. John C. Knapp's Inaugural Address:
Video of the Inauguration ceremony: