John C. Knapp is the president of Washington & Jefferson College, one of the United States’ oldest liberal arts colleges.

Knapp is a native of Atlanta; he was educated at Decatur High School. He then attended Georgia State University, where he was awarded a BSc in urban life with a focus on communication. He went on to take an MA in Theological Studies at Columbia Theological Seminary. The thesis for his PhD, awarded by University of Wales Lampeter in 1999, was entitled Self-deception and moral blindness in the modern corporation. He was also an Honorary Visiting Lecturer at Lampeter. 

Alongside studying, Knapp was president of Knapp Inc., a corporate communication consultancy, from 1986 to 2001. The agency helped firms, government agencies, universities and medical providers address a wide range of sensitive issues, including product safety, environmental impact, sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Then, in 2003, Knapp was appointed Professor of Ethical Leadership at Kennesaw State University, Georgia. He was also Senior Scholar in the Siegel Institute for Leadership, Ethics & Character. 

Knapp was the founder of The Southern Institute for Business and Professional Ethics; he led this from 1992 until 2006 when it became a unit of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University. The Southern Institute began life as an independent, community-based initiative. It aimed to raise awareness and understanding of ethics in business and professional life, and to stimulate a useful community dialogue. After its merger with Georgia State University, Knapp became a Professor there and Director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility. 

In 2008 Knapp moved to Samford University, a Christian college in Birmingham, Alabama. He became Mann Family Professor of Ethics and Leadership,  as well as being founder and director of the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership. The Mann Center aims to facilitate the understanding of Christian character, servant leadership and moral integrity in Samford students through practice. As professor, Knapp developed a new curriculum in applied ethics and led international projects in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  

Knapp became the twelfth president of Hope College, Holland, Michigan, in 2013. Hope College is a Christian liberal arts college, originally founded in the 19th century by Dutch immigrants in partnership with the Reformed Church in America. It now has 3 300 undergraduate students. Knapp led the development of ‘Hope for the World:2025,’ a ten-year strategic plan to enhance the institution’s distinctiveness as a place of academic excellence, faith development, inclusiveness and global engagement. The Boerigter Center, which he founded in 2017, aimed to transform the college’s approach to career preparation and to equip every student for career success and professional growth. Knapp himself was known for fostering a culture of inclusion, respect and support, especially for college members from underrepresented groups. 

In 2017, Knapp moved to Pennsylvania, to become the thirteenth President of Washington & Jefferson College. W&J College was founded in 1781; its origins are in three log cabin colleges. According to its mission statement, it aims ‘to graduate people of uncommon integrity, competence and maturity who are effective lifelong learners and responsible citizens, and who are prepared to contribute substantially to the world in which they live.’ Knapp has a strong commitment to liberal arts education; he argues that a liberal arts background lays a strong foundation in which students are taught to think critically. In particular, students are taught to apply lenses from multiple disciplines, so they can address complex problems requiring thinking in the round. At W&J he has introduced the annual Symposium on Democracy, which features leaders of thought from around the world, together with programming by the college’s own staff and students.  

Knapp has written extensively, producing a wide range of books and articles. With David J. Siegel he edited The Business of Higher Education, (Praeger, 2009), a three volume-set of 35 individual essays written by a diverse range of contributors. The first volume deals with leadership and culture, the second with management and fiscal strategies and the third with issues of marketing and consumer interests. Knapp also edited For the Common Good: the Ethics of Leadership in the 21st Century (Praeger, 2006), in which contributors from business, education, religion and politics set out the ethical requirements of leadership. The foreword was written by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.  The volume was described as a ‘stellar collection’ and ‘a valuable addition to the literature on leadership and professional ethics.’  Another edited volume, entitled Leaders on Ethics: Real-World Perspectives on Today’s Business Challenges, features speeches by noteworthy executives invited by Knapp to address audiences of business and community leaders. In How the Church Fails Business People (Eerdmans, 2012), Knapp used the findings of a survey of 230 business people. He offered a new theological framework for Christian life in the world of business and addressed the subtle tendency to devalue secular work. Knapp’s most recent book is Ghostwriting and the Ethics of Authenticity, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), cowritten with Azalea Hulbert. The two authors examined the history of ghostwriting as a professional practice and explored the connection between personal authenticity and the use of ghostwriters in corporate, legal, political, higher education and scientific contexts.  

Knapp has addressed academic and professional audiences all over the world. Since 2004 he has led The Oxford Conclave on Global Higher Education, an annual retreat for college and university presidents held annually in Oxford. He was director of the Stellenbosch Seboka on Higher Education & Ethical Leadership, a gathering of university leaders from throughout Southern Africa.  

Knapp and his wife Kelly have five adult children, and an increasing number of grandchildren. He is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

Sources 

Washington & Jefferson College. (2020). John C. Knapp, Ph.D. Bio. Retrieved September 28 2020 from https://www.washjeff.edu/about-wj/office-of-the-president/john-c-knapp-ph-d-bio/ 

Knapp, J. (2020). John Knapp. President of Washington & Jefferson College [LinkedIn page]. LinkedIn. Retrieved September 28 2020 from https://www.linkedin.com/in/jcknapp/ 

Georgia State University. (2007). The Southern Institute for Business and Professional Ethics joins Robinson College of Business. Retried September 28 2020 from https://robinson.gsu.edu/2007/12/southern-institute-business-professional-ethics-joins-robinson-college-business/ 

Hope College. [2017]. President John C. Knapp to leave Hope for Washington & Jefferson. Retrieved September 28 2020 from https://hope.edu/news/2017/campus-life/president-john-knapp-to-leave-hope-for-washington-jefferson.html 

Washington & Jefferson College. (2017, August 1). New W&J President John C. Knapp, Ph.D., speaks about his liberal arts philosophy. Retrieved September 28 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeeoSZWGISQ 

Leaf, G. E. (2007). For the common good: the ethics of leadership in the 21st century. Choice, 44(10), 1798. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/docview/225732768?accountid=130472 

ABC CLIO (2020). The Business of Higher Education by John C. Knapp and David J. Siegel, Editors. Retrieved September 29 2020 from https://products.abc-clio.com/ABC-CLIOCorporate/product.aspx?pc=C3295C