Charles Knapp

Charles Knapp
…what I tried to do was to establish what was important. What was important was that the University of Georgia had an opportunity to take its place among the great public universities of the country…

Transcript of Interview with Charles Knapp


TJ: This is Tom Jackson. It is June 4, 2009. We are at the Two Live Oaks Center in Atlanta interviewing a Goin’ Back interview with President Emeritus, Charles B. Knapp.

Question: Dr. Knapp, let’s go back to where it started.

Back to scenes

Career Path to UGA

Can you tell us about where you grew up and what your childhood was like?

I basically grew up in Iowa. I was born in Iowa and went to elementary and secondary schools there in Ames, which is where Iowa State is, and went to Iowa State as an undergraduate. I had a great experience there. It’s more of a technical school than a liberal arts school, and I think it gave me a very strong background in math and science, which I promptly took and went to graduate school in economics at the University of Wisconsin. The quantitative background of those technical skills served me very well in graduate school. I graduated from Wisconsin. By that time, Lynne and I had actually married when we were at Iowa State. Our daughter was born in Madison, and then started an academic and public sector journey across America, I guess.

What are some of the places that you worked in the early years?

Well, my first teaching job was the University of Texas at Austin, and I remember getting on a plane in Madison for the interview in Madison, Wisconsin to be interviewed at the University of Texas and it was January or February, and it was below zero and the wind was whipping across the Madison, Wisconsin airport, and I got off the plane in Austin and it was 70 degrees and the sun was shining, and it hit me right then that people don’t have to live up there in the winter. We really have not gone any further north after that than Washington, DC. I was on the faculty at Austin for five years. We loved it. Lynne and I often talk about the fact that if things had turned out differently, we would probably still be in Austin. It still is a wonderful place, but it was particularly wonderful then before it was discovered by a lot of people. When I was at Texas, the fellow that had hired me when he was chairman of the economics department, was Ray Marshall, and Ray was named Secretary of Labor by Jimmy Carter when he was elected. By December 1976, I was in Washington, working for the Carter-Mondale transition team. I worked with Ray as his special assistant for a couple of years and then had told both Ray and others in the administration that I really would like to have something with direct responsibility before the end of the term. I was thinking in those days of just serving out the first term. Of course it turned out just to be one right. But…and what they visited on me was the employment and training administration of the Labor Department, which some of the listeners may remember the CETA system, which was…didn’t have exactly the best reputation as delivering efficient government services. Basically what is now called the workforce system, and my title, back in the days before they were stripped free of gender bias, was the manpower administrator back in those days. I remember one of the…well it was actually Griffin Bell, whom I had gotten to know when I was at the Labor Department. He was attorney general…said when I was named the manpower administrator, he said, “I thought Ray Marshall liked you.” It was a very controversial agency, but what it did was to give me a background other than academics and being a staff person, which I was when I worked for Ray Marshall. It was a big federal agency of $15 billion dollar budget and two or three thousand federal employees. When I came out of the Carter administration, I think I was changed by the experience that I found it, frankly I found it difficult to lock the door and write for five hours, which scholars need to do. Relatively quickly, I ended up a year and a half later as the executive vice president of Tulane. I was there until 1987, when I was selected as President of the University of Georgia.

Back to scenes

Growing Up

Back in Iowa, tell us a bit about the family that you grew up around.

Well, you know, the legend…and this actually has the advantage of being true, is that I had a number of ancestors that were college and university presidents. The second president of Iowa State was Seamon Asahel Knapp, who would be my great great grandfather, and he actually later went on to greater notoriety as the widely viewed as being the father of the cooperative extension service. That would be 20 years after he left Iowa State. Then I had another great grandfather, Albert B. Storms, we actually share a middle name. He’s Albert Boynton Storms and I’m Charles Boynton Knapp, and he was president of Iowa State around maybe the first decade of the 20th century, maybe 1900-1910. My grandmother was actually raised in the president’s house at Iowa State. Another relative, and this is the real skeleton in my closet that I never really admitted when I was at UGA, was my uncle Bradford Knapp, who was president of Alabama Polytechnical Institute in the 1920s.

Forerunner of…

Forerunner of Auburn University. I always tried to fuzz that up when everybody asked me about that because I didn’t know if people would interpret that correctly. But, it actually…truth is, I found out more about them after I became a college president. It was hard to escape in Ames. I mean, there were streets named after Knapp and Storms, and the arch between two buildings of the agriculture department is the Knapp Arch. Very few families have arches named after them. That’s a kind of a distinction, but that was really as a result of his work with what became the cooperative extension service.

Does it give you the personal sense that it might be in the genes?

You know, I guess it could, but I really don’t believe that. As I was saying, I really found out a lot more about the ancestors…the specifics of it. You know when you’re a young man growing up in Iowa, you’re actually…you don’t really want to talk about the fact that that street was named after your great great grandfather or your friends would ridicule you, so I kind of avoided it at Iowa State, although I remember when I was a fraternity pledge, some of the actives in the chapter found out about it and they had a good old time with that, but you know, I think what it did do and maybe this was a less direct than a kind of a DNA effect, is that the sort of reverence for higher education was very much part of the family. Both my parents and all four of my grandparents, which is more unusual, are graduates of Iowa State. So they would have been graduates in the early part of the 20th century when relatively few people went to college. So that part was in the family bloodline about understanding the value of higher education.

Back to scenes

Coming to UGA

So you’re in your administrative position at Tulane. How did UGA come onto your horizon?

Well, I had been at Tulane about five years and had decided, and really had had a great experience. I was learning from a very wise university president, Eamon Kelly, who is still a great friend of mine and lives in New Orleans and is doing wonderful things. He ended up serving 17 years as president of Tulane and really changed the institution. Watching Eamon and learning from him on the kind of panoply of the issues you’ve got to face and the tasks you need to undertake, particularly as a research university president, was a great experience, and I think it made me better prepared, but it also frankly gave me a kind of a thirst for doing it. So I had begun to respond positively to the invitations that I would get occasionally to put my name in the hat for a college presidency. The contact with Georgia was actually Eamon to Elridge MacMillan. We’re now in 2009 and that was 22 or 23 years ago and Elridge is still on the Board of Regents of the University System in Georgia. I think the longest serving regent in history, and Eamon had known Elridge was coming to New Orleans for a meeting, and I had been contacted, I guess, by the search firm about the opening, but hadn’t really responded to it. Eamon set up a meeting at one of the downtown hotels with Elridge, and we had a good talk. He reaffirmed a lot of the things that were forming in my mind about Georgia, and it was shortly after that that I applied.

So that influenced you to take the job when the offer came? Or what were the things that influenced you to take the job?

Well, I thought that a couple of things about the University. One was it had just gone through a traumatic period with the Jan Kemp affair, and I think it’s important when you see an institution that does something like that to kind of look through the fog of what had gone on and a lot of people were still looking at the fog and they weren’t paying attention to the underlying strengths of the University. I thought the University of Georgia was a lot better institution than it was perceived as being. I mean to this day, there is still a kind of snobbery in higher education about southern universities. It’ll take a long time longer to get that done. But I knew from having been at Tulane, that there were really distinguished faculty at Georgia, that for a university without an engineering school or a medical school, that they were very strong in the basic sciences and had a lot of sponsored research. I also had a sense that turned out to be correct that the University was really in the orbit of Atlanta in that Atlanta was going to be an engine that would move a lot of things forward in the coming years. So when you took all that together, it just seemed like a really good opportunity, and then as I began to meet the people that were involved, I became even more convinced that that assessment was correct.

What do you recall about your first physical visit to the campus? What did you see? What did you expect?

Well, it was interesting because the end of the search took a kind of a twist that none of us really could have anticipated. I had been for a couple of interviews, maybe three interviews, and Lynne had been at least in on one of those interviews. We actually interviewed in the old C&S Bank Building downtown here in Atlanta, which is now the Georgia State Business School, but irony being what it is, that’s all right. I had kind of thought we were, given the rhythm of a search and knowing what I knew about it, maybe another interview away or maybe a phone call away from saying now we’re going to do a beauty pageant on the campus, or the way these things usually conclude, particularly at public universities. I had been involved in a search at another university that was a little bit ahead of that, and I’m told by folks that were involved in that, that the search committee and the chancellor, who was Dean Propst at the time, became aware of that, and decided that they needed to strike fast, so I was sitting in my office…I had never been to Athens. I had been to Atlanta many times, but I was sitting in my office at Tulane one morning and the chancellor called me and offered me the job subject to the Board of Regent’s approval. You know, Lynne and I had talked about it enough to know that was really our first choice, so why…and you don’t want to seem like you’re plagued by self-doubt at a moment like that, so I just swallowed hard and said, “Yes, I’m sure we’ll be able to work out the details.” So we did and we flew to…early morning flight, maybe 6:00 out of New Orleans, flew to Atlanta. I remember unfortunately I got to the…Eamon Kelly was aware of it, but nobody else at Tulane was, and I got to the airport and three of my direct reports were right there on the same flight, wondering why Lynne and I were headed to Atlanta. We got here and were secreted in the back passage to Governor Joe Frank Harris’ office and we spent some time with the governor and his staff, which at that point included Gracie Phillips, who is a great friend of ours, Gracie and Barry have been great friends of ours ever since. I did a press conference with the Board of Regents, which included Elridge was there, and Dean Propst was there and Art Gignilliat, who ran Savannah Light and Power for years was there. Then we went to Athens. By this time I’m pretty well committed. I’ve already done the press conference, met the governor, and so on, and we drove on over to Athens. We, you know, of course, fell in love with the town immediately, but I guess it was a little bit of a risky thing to take the job sight unseen. I was comfortable with the research I had done about the University and the number of people I had talked to, so I believed there weren’t any great surprises, and there weren’t…

Do you remember what you thought when you toured the campus among those first times? What was your impression of the physical campus?

Absolutely. I remember being overwhelmed by the number…the scale of the facilities and, yeah, it was kind of one those epiphany moments that…all right, now you’ve asked for it, and now you’re responsible for all this.

The dog who caught the car.

Yeah, exactly. You know, I’m not a person that again looks backward too often, but I guess we all have kind of moments like that where you think, wow. That was kind of one of those “wow” moments for me, was that first tour of the campus. I don’t think it was the first time we were there. It may have been in the next visit, or whatever, that we did a kind of a comprehensive tour of the campus. Now Tom, we can’t let this pass without the story of that first night, which you may remember.

The first interview on Atlanta television?

The first interview and there was this brash reporter, who was following me all day from channel 11, WXIA TV, named Tom Jackson. You were kind of with us all day and as we moved from place to place and had a press conference at Lustrat House with the indomitable Henry King Stanford and others, and had a big dinner at the president’s home that Henry and Ruth Stanford hosted for us, a lot of what turned out to be good friends there. And at the end of it, I think it may have been Larry Dendy who said, “Tom Jackson is just being relentless about getting you on the 11:00 news live from Athens.” At that point XIA had a studio in a little building downtown to look out over the arch. I’m sure you remember it. So I finally said…Lynne said, “I’m going to bed!” and she did. At 11:00 we’re over there in the studio and you were with me and we’re looking into a camera and John Pruitt and who was the other anchor, I can’t remember.

I remember John.

In fact John and I are now neighbors in terms of where we live in north Georgia, so I see him all the time and we laugh about this. But anyway, it’s 11:00 at night and I’ve been up remember, since…you know I got a 6:00 flight out of New Orleans, so this has been a pretty long kind of intense day with a lot of questions and interviews, and I’m starting to fade a little bit. So anyway, we’re talking, I’m talking to John as we do the countdown to 11:00 and they’re going to lead with me from Athens with the arch in the background, and I remember right before we went on, John said something like, “Don’t worry Dr. Knapp, there’s only X hundreds of thousands of people that are watching this.” And at that point I did not wear glasses. I wore contact lenses and at the very strike of the hour at 11:00 one of my contacts went off center and we’re live, and I’m sitting there the whole interview with John Pruitt going like this, twitching and trying to rub the contact back on, and so I could see everybody down in Clayton County saying, “Look Martha, they hired a guy with a twitch!” I mean it was bizarre! John and I still laugh about that moment, but that was the first time I met you.

Do you remember what happened? I came to pick you up in the news car and I took you back over to the president’s house. Do you remember what happened?

Yeah, they wouldn’t let us in.

They didn’t know who these two people were.

They said, “Who are you?” And we had to…

The young university police officer being introduced to the new president.

Yeah, we had to talk our way past security, particularly the fact I was going in the house and everybody else was asleep. I can’t remember if we had to wake Henry up or not, but he probably would not have minded.

I think he finally came to the door and saved us from the police officer.

I think that’s right, yeah.

Also, on one of those early tours, you went through the Fine Arts building, and had an immediate impression of it.

Well, you know, now I think as we speak, it is under renovation, now finally, and I’m sure when it was built, it was built as a WPA project during the Depression, and I’m sure at one point it was a fine facility. But by the late 1980s, it had…it was not satisfactory. I already had begun to think about how you balance different strengths of the University, and what was becoming clear to me as I looked at the Fine Arts building, which…I mean there were “practice rooms” in the basement that were really just kind of cubicles where even I’m smart enough about music to know that you couldn’t really have a serious practice session down there. The main auditorium itself had been renovated so many times, I think it bore little resemblance to the original construction.

Done in the black box style.

Yeah, it was not a pretty place, and I began to think about the fact that to balance the University, that a performing a visual arts center complex would be something we ought to do, and you know, began talking about that immediately. There were a lot of wonderful facilities at the University, but that facility in particular was just inadequate for a great university.

And that led to the development of the full east campus complex.

Yeah, we kept working and working on that, and that was where…that along with the Ramsey Center were the initial buildings on East Campus.

Back to scenes

First Year as President

Your early days had to be colored by the recent controversy with the Jan Kemp case as you mentioned. You had issues with athletics. You had issues with developmental studies. I’m sure you were getting a lot of advice, from people both within and without the University. Can you speak to how that surrounded you in your first year of service?

Sure: I actually might take you back to a story during the search, you know the search committee was an eclectic group. It was chaired by Sid Smith, who was on the Regents, retired federal judge from Gainesville. But we had everything from former quarterbacks to members of the arts and sciences faculty that had led the charge, really against Fred Davison. So there was a lot of dissonance in the search committee. I remember one discussion that maybe went on for an hour with the search committee about athletics, and I’d had some experiences with athletics that they reported to me at Tulane, and I thought we had a really good discussion about it, kind of talking about the balance that was necessary to run a competitive intercollegiate athletic program and to do it in a way that was consistent with the mission of the University. I remember it concluded, and Judge Smith said, “Well, that was a good discussion Chuck.” I said, “Well thank you, Judge.” And he said, “I’ve got one more thing to say to you.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “We want to win!” So I kind of took that to heart as part of it and always did, but it was a time of, I think Henry King Stanford had done a good job of kind of pouring some oil on the waters, but there was an underlying still sense of tension and a lot of people concerned about the direction of the University, the reputation of the University coming out of the Jan Kemp affair. I really set out to do two things right away. One was to stop talking, I believe I used the term wallowing, in the Kemp affair. I did everything I could, both in substance and symbol to do that. I don’t know if you recall that there was a lot of heat to film a movie about it, and they wanted to film it on campus. I said, we’re not going to do that because we’re not looking in the back, we’re looking in the front and this doesn’t help us look in the front. In terms of that issue, which was most important as looking forward, what I tried to do was to establish what was important. What was important was that the University of Georgia had an opportunity to take its place among the great public universities of the country, and that’s what we need to keep our eye on. Athletics was an important part of that. I’m still a rabid Bulldog. I will admit. I live and die with the University of Georgia athletic teams to this day, but what we’ve got to keep in mind is that’s only part of the University and in fact, and this used to drive people crazy when I said it, it’s not the most important part. Our most important part is teaching, research, and public service. And a strong athletics program can be a great benefit to the University. It can bring people together. It can build enthusiasm. It can be a portal that people enter the University through that otherwise would not be available. But that we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball. I think a lot of people that were athletically inclined interpreted that as a de-emphasis of athletics, and that did cause a lot of…we had to do a lot of talking with people about that in the first few years, and I tried to explain what I was up to. I tried to be clear. I was clear with the regents and the hiring process that you know, that my priorities were academic and that’s where we were going to take the University, because I thought that Georgia as a state that was and still is on the rise, deserved a comprehensive public university that could compete with places like Virginia and North Carolina, and I think we’ve reached that objective. But it did not come without breaking a few eggs in the process.

Back to scenes

Presidents Davison and Stanford

It’s a small fraternity, the folks who have been President of the University of Georgia and I know you worked with both Fred Davison and Henry King Stanford over the years. Share with me a bit about your sense of each of those gentlemen and the foundation they laid for what you were able to build upon.

Well, I really had an excellent relationship with Fred, and a lot of people probably would be surprised by that. Because there was to some extent some fussiness, I will say, between our lieutenants at various times. Surrogates would get on each other.

Present company not included.

[Laughter] I hope so. But Fred was always there for advice for me, and there were a lot of times I would call him or just have a quiet breakfast with him and try to get him to unlock mysteries, and that’s a fellow that had been president of the University for almost 20 years, and he knew a lot about the University and where it stood and had a very good sense of academic excellence and was a very valuable advisor, but he was also very quiet about it and I learned from him, I think above all others, the way a former president should behave. Fred never would comment on what was going on at the University, never say anything, you know if there was a policy issue and he had something to say, he’d call me and we’d talk about it, but he never would go into the press about it, and I was very grateful for that. That’s really how I think it should be. You don’t need, especially since he was for a few years before he moved to Augusta, on the faculty of the vet school. You didn’t need the former president out there second guessing you all the time. Fred never, never did that.

His great legacy may be setting the University on the course toward the life sciences.

I think it was, and that would be…I think if you again look at the big macro accomplishment, I think Fred, even more generally, set us on the course of being a great research university. That was in place in the life sciences, the biosciences were the areas he emphasized, but there were a lot of strengths, particularly in those areas when I got to the University. So I think Fred needs to be given all the credit for that.

And Dr. Stanford?

Well Henry, it was a little bit different. Of course, he was there really less than a year, but just the right person at the right time. I mean the University was traumatized and Henry was the doctor, psychiatrist maybe. As he so often said, he went…“from Rabun Gap to Tybee’s light.” I can still hear him saying it: “From Athens to Rome and spread the gospel!” and he really did a remarkable job. He is a remarkable man. As we speak today, it was just a few months ago that we were in Americus for his funeral service and I really, really admired the job he did at multiple universities, particularly the University of Miami, which I think is kind of what prepared him to help in a place like Georgia. He set the right tone, and really…interim…the University is an ocean liner and you can’t turn it very fast. I think it would be overstating it to say Henry could turn the ocean liner in the brief period of time he was there, but he certainly calmed the waters around it and in many ways made it easier for me. Now Henry, till his last few days, always repeated for me the story that he said, “Well, Chuck Knapp: I used up his honeymoon.” And there were days when I thought that was essentially accurate, but Henry was a piece of work, and again, for me as president, a very useful advisor, an older head that had been through it before and could teach me things and get me to see things that I wouldn’t have been able to see on my own.

Back to scenes

Reputation and Minority Recruitment

Talk about the path toward improving the academic reputation. Some of the early steps you took toward that, teaching initiatives, diversity emphasis, more collegial role for the faculty, which had not been a strength at the University. If you would, please outline a bit for us your thinking of what steps were crucial in moving toward that enhanced academic reputation.

My experience had been and to this day is that what you do is you sort of set the vision in place. You get the… here’s where we’re headed. This is what we’re doing. And I know Tom, you served on the cabinet when I was there, and I know people got tired of me talking about academic reputation, and that everything we were going to do was going to be built around that. If you had to make a judgment about an issue, whether it was an athletic issue or parking issue or an academic issue or a teaching issue, or an issue of relationships with the General Assembly or whatever, that was the lens that I wanted it decided on, and we were going to do it as an issue of academic reputation, because I felt that if we could force that issue, then all the good things that would fall out of that would build the University into one of the best recognized public universities in the country. What you do then, is you start breaking that down into decisions you face and things that you want to happen. I thought the more collegial approach with the faculty was desirable. Faculty are going to produce more and harder for the University if they feel they’ve got a, excuse the pun, dog in the hunt, and they did. They rose to that occasion. They were with very, very few exceptions, I thought entirely responsible in the way they assumed the additional issues that they were given responsibility for. I made it very clear what they were responsible for and what they were advisory for, because they at that point would have liked to have taken over the athletic department, and I said, “No, that’s not…I do those administrative operational decisions and things like the athletic department. Those are my responsibility. I’ll listen to what anybody has got to say, but you’re responsibility, which ought to be enough over here, is to build the academic programs of the University.” So that was one thing. We tried to make sure in hiring faculty that we were very careful about who we hired. This isn’t to say anything negative about the great faculty that were there, but what you always want to do is to raise the average quality of the faculty every time you make a hire. We were, at the price of causing some friction with some of the department heads, and so on. We focused very much on that. Bill Prokasy, who came I guess a year after I was there, second year because Louise McBee was the acting academic vice president for the first year. Bill always had a very strong sense of academic excellence. He came from being the dean of arts and sciences at the University of Illinois. I came to rely very heavily on him for that particular judgment about what would build academic excellence in the departments and where did we need to make strategic hires. That was really Bill’s absolute sweet spot in terms of what he understood instinctively and could advise on. So that was part of it. Teaching was part of it, too. Ernest Boyer had just come up with his report on…this must have been about 1985, on a new definition of scholarship that basically made the argument that trying to separate out teaching and research, which a lot of people often try to do, was not the right way to look at it. The right way to look at it was great researchers make great teachers. So we undertook a number of initiatives to try to get that to work. One was to move the very best researchers back into the classroom, and they were happy to do that. They said, “Gee, nobody had asked me to teach a freshman course in years.” To try to establish teaching awards that weren’t just plaques and pats on the back, but actually had dollars and merit pay increases attached to them. To try to make sure we were preparing graduate students for their responsibilities in the classroom. You know, typically universities take graduate students and throw them into the classroom and don’t give them any background or preparation at all. I think that program is still in place at the University where our graduate students that teach have to go through a fairly rigorous preparation before they get to the classroom. But we would think through the hiring and the flexibility we had, particularly in the good budget times, when you were building the faculty up and how we would go up about approaching that. Where the hires would make the most difference, which departments we were trying to build. We were very strategic in terms of recruiting students because one of the indicators that faculty will look at in making a decision to come to the University and that the general public looks at is the quality of the students at the University. So this kind of gets lost in the fog of history, but I’m always kind of amused when people talk about, well the Hope Scholarship built the beginning of the rise in the freshman measures like the SAT score and so on. Sorry, look at the data, not true. Fred Davison had begun, and we accelerated a program where we were using the unrestricted money that was raised through the University of Georgia Foundation to fund merit scholarships and keep the very best students in the state, go out and recruit them, make them feel like they were great athletes coming to the University and get them to come. A lot of that was already underway. In fact, my view of the Hope Scholarship when Zell Miller was elected and it was coming online, was that what that would allow us to do is free those merit funds up for other programs within the University. That’s one of the advantages I saw of the Hope Scholarship. I mean, we were spending, I think it was on the order of three million dollars a year on merit scholarships, and that all got collapsed out by the presence of the Hope Scholarship, but that trajectory, if you look at it, had already begun by the time the Hope Scholarship came on line. Hope was a wonderful thing for the University in terms of building the quality of the freshman class, but it is important to remember that process had already begun. Well, I could go on and on, and those of you that are viewing this are probably afraid I will. But, nonetheless, we tried to pick those points like the construction of the East Campus, that would make a difference in the way people viewed the University, and I’d have to say that was largely successful. What happens is, students and faculty like to go to a place that’s on the rise, where things are getting better, and all of a sudden, we were not a safety school all of a sudden. We were a selective school and I’m reminded of that every spring. I think people are still under some kind of a misconception that I had anything to do with admissions at the University, but I get calls from parents of the elite high schools in Atlanta saying my son or daughter didn’t get in. I said, well it’s a competitive place, they need to go to the two-year college and get themselves ready for the University of Georgia.

Another thing that you paid intense attention to in those years was the minority recruitment for the student body for a variety of reasons, wanting to reflect the population of the state, and you put great importance on that, and it posed some challenges, did it not?

It did. I thought the University had not done enough to kind of be a welcoming place for students, and we tried to do things both in terms of the substance and the symbols of that. Charlayne Hunter Gault, who was one of the first two African-American students at the University came back and gave the commencement address the first spring I was there. I was very purposeful about that. I wanted to make sure that particularly young African-American students in the state knew we were a place that celebrated that and wanted them to look at the University of Georgia as a welcoming place to be. We recruited minority students and we recruited minority faculty too, because if you’re one of the few faculty or few students, it’s hard to make a case that it’s a welcoming place. There were some incidents involved in that. I got some kind of nasty letters in the mail and some folks that would pull me aside and give me advice that we were moving too fast on that. You’ve got to learn what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to, so we just kept moving ahead.

The court case did come along during your presidency?

That was right at the end, the major one was right at the end, and I think those are difficult public policy issues that I don’t know that the country has ever really entirely resolved. Although Georgia was involved in that, I think it was Michigan that turned out to be the kind of flagship on those cases, and it’s still an ambiguous area of public policy, I think in America. I think it’s hard to sort it out to this day. What you can do and what you can’t do, and what you should do, and what you shouldn’t do.

Back to scenes

Times of Crisis

I was thinking back over some what you might call crisis situations that you and your administration had to deal with during those days. One night I recall was the night of the first, the beginning of the first war in Iraq.


We learned that students were marching across the North Quad. Do you recall that evening?

I do. I remember going over there and meeting and talking with the students. Yeah, I was really informed in that period. I may not have known this at the time, but as I reflect on it by my time as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, which was from 1968 to 1972, and I watched students take out on the University, their frustrations about the Vietnam War. I could kind of see that in these students, the students that were out there that night. A lot of them felt that the University bore some responsibility for it. I think by coming out and talking with them, I think that may have diffused part of it, but a number of them decided to camp out on the North Quad there, which we allowed to proceed for a number of days. I was getting a lot of advice from members of the General Assembly and others about how I ought to send the police in there and take care of those protesters, but we tried to be patient. Milner Ball, from the law school, who was very well respected by students across the campus, really became a facilitator for us in terms of trying to work that out, and what we eventually worked out was that they would move to an area there, I guess what would be on what the northeast little sliver of campus up there. I didn’t want to give the impression that this was going to be pattern and practice of the University. If you needed a place to pitch a tent, you were going to put out in front of Old College. At the same time, I wanted to respect the rights of the students to free speech and protest, so we reached what I think was a pretty good compromise and it kind of faded out after a while. I think spring break came along and it never really got reestablished after that. I think the lesson for the administration is not to kind of over react to something like that and to be a university about it. Engage people in discourse and listen to what they’ve got to say, and I think the lesson for the students is not to destroy the University because of exogenous events that are affecting the world. The university becomes a handy…I think in the case of Wisconsin, the University became a handy punching bag for the students because it was a lot easier to punch at the University than it was to punch at the Department of Defense in Washington. It was just closer, and I really in retrospect think all that guided my thinking in terms of trying to kind of work through that issue and be patient about it.

I remember the day Brooks Hall burned. And you were out of town speaking somewhere, and we called you and said, “You need to get back!” I believe you flew over the fire.

I knew exactly where we were, were at Sapelo on that…did you ever have the opportunity to land on the grass strip at Sapelo?

No, I did not.

Well that was a flying experience. Mac McWhorter, who was the pilot of the plane we used for the entire time I was there, and we were…I can’t remember exactly why I was at Sapelo, but it was one of the issues dealing with the marine station down there and so on, and there was an old landing strip there, actually on Sapelo that Mr. Reynolds when he owned it, one of his ideas was they’d use it as a tourist destination. It was actually an old grass strip and an old Delta office right there in an old hangar and so on. I remember, we were taxiing down to get it into the wind because it wasn’t an easy place to either land or take off on, and my cell phone went off and it was Tom Landrum. First of all, we were literally revving the engines and the cell phone went off, and I don’t know why, typically I would have just said, Ah, I’ll get it when I get back to Athens, but I asked Mac to power down the engines so I could hear what was going on on the cell phone. As you said, it was I think you and Tom Landrum on the phone saying. “You need to get back here! Brooks Hall is on fire!” So we flew back to Athens and that’s why we flew over the fire, was on the way in, I asked Mac to fly over North Campus, and you could tell it was a catastrophe. It takes about an hour to get back from there, so an hour later, a lot of the roof had caved in and so on. I was just…as I flew over it, I remember thinking of one thing, and that is I hope nobody got hurt, and it was just property damage in the end. Nobody got hurt.

Rebuilding a facility like that, though, and handling the displacement is a major administrative task.

Well, with Al Neimi and Bill Prokasy, we…I remember we met the next morning and we did…two things happened. One is I told Al, I thought about it overnight and I told Al and Bill and after we had met we…you will remember this, we walked out in front of Lustrat House. There were a lot of reporters there and I said we’re going to rebuild this and we’re going to start right away. This wasn’t a question of, I want to make sure the business college faculty, the college faculty knew that they had a commitment that this was going to get fixed as soon as possible. The second thing that happened though, is it doesn’t tend to make for a very good news story, but it’s a reality around universities I’ve worked at, and that is that in an event like that, you know the friction between the arts and sciences faculty and the business college faculty and the journalism college faculty, it all just disappeared. Everybody said all right, here’s what we need to do to get this to work and here’s where we need to put the offices, and here’s where we need to create classroom space, and so on. And everybody, all the colleges pitched in. Everybody gave a little bit and we got through the next year. I don’t know that it clearly was a traumatic event, but I don’t think the Terry College suffered from it in the long run.

Another big management issue I recall is the huge budget hits we had in about 1991 and 1992, particularly Cooperative Extension. It took a lot of hits. It pales a bit in comparison to some of what we’ve faced recently, but even so, it was a crisis at the time.

I’d really like to start there, because as we speak today, we’re in the middle of a budget situation in the state that makes that all seem like kind of child’s play in retrospect. I really, I fear that the situation we’re in right now is…I think we got through those couple of budget hits we went through in a way that were significant speed bumps, but basically we were able to maintain the trajectory. What I fear now is that the budget cuts the University is having to take right now are going to significantly and in the long run, affect the trajectory of the University. I don’t know the details of it, although I’m on the faculty list serve and I get that end of it, but it just seems to me that the level of dollars that have been taken out is just not possible to be able to keep the growth rates and the University going in the right direction.

To date, we’ve lost 13.9% of the fiscal year ’10 budget.

Well, it’s not a pretty picture. I think the economy generally…this is June 2009, is on the way back up, but these tax collection issues are going to lag that and what I’m afraid of is the cuts are what they are, but what I’m afraid of is that it breaks the momentum of the University of Georgia, which I think has continued in the 12 years since I’ve left, and I just hope and pray that’s not the case. Those cuts in 1991 and 1992, which were right when Zell Miller was coming into office, were an interesting time. Two things I remember about that very clearly. One was that as you indicated, the cuts in the Cooperative Extension service were draconian. I always thought it was ironic that, you know the legislature would go in and cut the Cooperative Extension service and then howl like crazy when you’d try to say you can’t have a county extension agent in each of the counties across the state. Well, I didn’t mean you were going to cut the Cooperative Extension agents in my county seat…so there was a little bit of a disconnect there I had with the distinguished members, particularly the Georgia House about that issue. But the real threat to the University was the number of tenured faculty lines. People don’t think of the extension service this way, but in the extension service there were and are a number of tenured faculty lines. Again, it’s an example of how the University can pull together. I said well look, we’re not going to lay off faculty and we’re not going to sacrifice, we’re not going to furlough or fire tenured faculty. What we did was we absorbed a large number of those faculty back into the resident structure or the A budget of the University, and you’d think that would have caused great disruption in the departments they had to go to, that they would have been mad as hops about the fact that they’re getting faculty late into their department that they didn’t hire. There wasn’t any of that at all. Everybody understood that was part of maintaining academic reputation in the University. The other thing I remember about that budget cut was Zell had promised during the election that he would back the initial appropriation for the Georgia Research Alliance, and even with the budget cuts, he met his word on that.

And, in the next few years we had four consecutive years of 6% pay increases.

Well that was actually second term. That would have been…I’m trying to get the years straight. His initial election was 1990, so this would have been 1990-91. The four consecutive years were when he was reelected in 1994 and in a story I still tell the new university presidents, as one of those moments that doesn’t ever happen in higher education, the governor asked Wayne Clough, who was relatively new at Tech at that point, and I’m trying to think who was… I guess it was Carl Patton at Georgia State and Fran Tedesco at…four research university presidents, met with the governor for lunch between his reelection and his inauguration to a second term, and he said, “What can I do to help build the reputation of your institutions?” We said, “You can give us four consecutive years of 6% salary pools.” And he did. He delivered on that, made a huge difference.

Back to scenes

The Press

I believe the year you arrived, the University raised 14 million dollars in private funds. That is a lot higher these days and you had a lot to do with building the fund raising organization, a capital campaign occurred during your administration. Talk about what it took to build that and…plus an emphasis on public relations, which is important.

Well, I think it is important. You know the dollars are important that you raise, and we were able to through the campaign and kind of putting in place a professional communications and fund raising presence, were able to bump that up, ratchet it. I think that’s always the objective. You go along at a certain level and you have a campaign. You don’t want it to slide back down. You want it to continue at an increased level. We were able to do that. It is an art, not a science, and a lot of people worked hard at that. A lot of volunteers worked at it. A lot of good staff, Nik Edes, Don Eastman served as vice presidents for development during that period of time and a lot of the credit should go to them. But it’s basically relationship building. Lynne deserves a lot of credit for that. People didn’t see a lot of the things she did. I remember, of course, the largest single donor, I think, still at the University is Bernie Ramsey. The development staff that was in place when I came said, “Well just don’t bother with Bernie, he’s just mean and ornery and up in New York and really isn’t going to give any money to the University.” But I found out…it’s a good case, by the way, how athletics can help in fund raising. Bill Hartman, Coach Hartman had had him down on every…they had been in the same class, and Bernie was the commandant of ROTC and Bill was the all American half back. And Coach Hartman and Ruth would have Bernie down every fall for a football game, so he had maintained some relationship with the University, but when we first started working with him, I thought the staff that said this is going nowhere, were right. But it was actually Lynne, who said, “You know, I think Bernie has a good heart. I think he loves the University. I think he just…you know we need to find the right thing to ignite his passion.” It’s a good case in point about fund raising. We stayed after that, Peter and Kay Amman, Bernie was Merrill Lynch and Peter was Merrill Lynch and he had a relationship, developed a relationship with Bernie too and several others, and eventually after gosh knows how many trips to New York and entertaining Bernie in Athens, we got the key. I know when we hit it, we had him at an event out at the Botanical Garden and somebody, whoever it was, I don’t know, and they ought to get their portrait painted at the University, sat Bernie between two Foundation Fellows at the dinner, and I remember in the middle of the dinner Lynne poked me and she said, “Look over at Bernie,” and he was just in heaven talking to these young students. Shortly after he said, “That’s what I want to do! I want to build that program,” and that’s, of course, what he ended up doing. That’s where the Ramsey Scholars came from.

An emphasis on development and on institutional public relations had not been that strong before you came into office, and you put great importance on it.

Well, and Tom, you need to take a lot of the credit for the fact that we, I think…I came from a background and presidents are different, and I don’t mean this to be critical of anybody that came before me, but there was a little bit of a sense when I got there that you didn’t talk to the press, and you didn’t communicate, and I had come from a background where you were…where transparency was the norm basically, besides the fact that open records laws would make you transparent anyway. But I think you’ll agree that what we tried to do was to be accessible to the press and talk with them and you know, not everybody tries to spin a little bit, but we didn’t try to over spin things in terms of our angle on it, and I think with most of the reporters, not all of the reporters, that made a difference, and I think they treated the University on balance better because of that, because they had some confidence that we were giving them the straight information and as much information as we could.

I remember one time you told me that my challenge for the year was to have a University of Georgia research project reported in the New York Times in the Science Times. That happens weekly now, but the first time it happened, you gave us a champagne reception.

Exactly. I remember it well. Now I’ve got to tell you that one of the joys of my current life is that I can go out in the morning and pick up the Atlanta Constitution and know there’s an excellent chance I won’t be above the fold.

We can’t pick it up at all in Athens, so you’re doing better.

That’s right.

Back to scenes

Dooley and Head Coach Changes

I remember one day you called me and my office was two doors down from yours, and I was in Terrell Hall and you were in Lustrat House, and you said, “I need you to come here right now!” and it sounded urgent. And I went to the office and I walked in and sat down, and you said, “I need to tell you that Vince Dooley has resigned,” and I laughed and I thought this is a bad joke. You said, “No, he really has resigned.” That was a bit of a challenge going through that change in both the head football coach and the athletic director at the same time.

Yeah it was. And it surprised me. It didn’t surprise me that Vince was stepping down as head football coach because he and I talked about that a number of times over the first couple of years I was there, and what surprised me was he was stepping down as athletic director at the same time because if you will recall, he was going to run for governor. That’s what he had set out to do. So it put us in a kind of a unique situation. I mean normally, if the head football coach resigns you turn to the athletic director and say, find a head football coach. And in our case, that wasn’t possible and you know, that was a rocky few weeks. We almost had a coach and then that popped out with Dick Sheridan from North Carolina State, and it got leaked prematurely to the papers before he had a chance to tell his team, and he had to pull out. You know, you always learn from events like that, and I learned from that event, but it was…I remember the press conference that followed probably later that day or the next day after you and I discussed what was going on, and it was at the Tate Center and they broke in to, I think all the TV stations in Georgia live at 2:00 in the afternoon. Knocked the soap operas off TV.

You’re exactly right.

For Vince to announce that he was stepping down…that was where Lynne and I developed the metaphor of “trouble”, which at that point, I don’t know if they do this anymore. I think technology has changed a bit, but you well know this, Tom, it used to be that when there was big news going on the satellite trucks from NBC, ABC, and CBS would descend on Athens and we always knew there was trouble if we woke up in the morning and looked out of the second floor of the president’s home and there were the three satellite trucks lined up in front of the house, waiting for trouble.

Some things never change.

I think they spent about a week there during that coaching search. It was right over Christmas. The other…in fact Lynne and I were laughing about this the other day. She still refers to it as the lost Christmas. People…again this one is a number of people remember it, but most people wouldn’t, is when we changed coaches between…after Ray Goff left. We had hired the coach at the University of Kansas, guy named Glen Mason. And he decided on Christmas day, that he wasn’t going to come, that he was going to stay at the University of Kansas. I remember getting a call like 10:00 Christmas morning from John Shaefer, who was then associate athletic director, and he said, “Vince and Barbara are on their way back from Birmingham,” where Barbara’s family was. This was before cell phones, I guess, or why they didn’t have a cell phone, I don’t know. He said “Vince was going to stop at the first rest stop in Georgia and call you like at 11:20 or something like that.” I thought uh oh, because I remember saying to John Shaefer, I said, “I assume he’s not calling to wish me Merry Christmas!” and indeed, we had a couple of discussions as he was trying to get back to Athens and I remember in the choice between Glen Mason in that search, the other candidate had been Jim Donnan, and we decided very quickly to go back to Jim Donnan and had him signed up. I remember telling Vince, “Sign him up before the 5:00 news tonight!” so that…I learned all this from you. You don’t let the news cycle go so the story is going to be Georgia hires Jim Donnan rather than the other story.

Your phone call to me that Christmas day came in the middle of Christmas dinner, and that was the end of Christmas.

Well, it was. Lynne calls it the lost Christmas. She said my mother, who at that point was kind of elderly, was sitting at the Christmas dinner table the whole time going “Where’s Chuck, where’s Chuck?”

In fact, Coach Dooley came back to you a few weeks later and asked if he could return as athletic director.

In the former case, yeah, which would have been what, 1989. He did, and I didn’t hesitate for a second. I said, “The job is yours. We’ll cancel the search and move forward.” I think Vince, in my estimation, turned out to be a great athletic director. That doesn’t always happen with football coaches that may hold both titles, then become athletic directors, but he was a great athletic director for the University of Georgia.

Back to scenes

Career After UGA

When people write the story of Chuck Knapp as President at UGA, what points do you hope they make? What are the accomplishments you had hoped to be remembered for during your ten years?

Rise in academic reputation. I think if they remember that, then the rest of it is detail. That’s what I was trying to do, and I think we accomplished that, and I think that trajectory continues to this day. I’m very proud of the University. I had a great time. I had ten great years. I left at a period in time where I still had other things to do and I’m still enjoying life, but I’ll always look back at that as kind of a wonderful period and frankly, a period where we set out to do something and got it done.

You served ten years to the day. Was that by design?

I did. No, it was just happenstance. I had begun to think about the…it’s different for different presidents, and I’ve watched a lot of them over the years, and some the period’s shorter and some it’s longer, but for me, in that tenth year we had had a strategic plan. We had reached the objectives in the strategic plan, and I remember in that year calling in one by one, every dean, every vice president, and saying, “All right, what’s our new energy source here? What’s the…we’ve built academic reputation, what do we do next?” And come away from that in my own mind, although there were a lot of good ideas on the table, without a clear sense of what was next. Then the opportunity at the Aspen Institute came up and it just worked out that it was ten years.

So you’ve been out of office now 12. How’ve you spent the 12 years?

Well, I was at the Aspen Institute for a number of years, and then I ran the higher education practice in Heidrick and Struggles for three or four years, I guess. One day, I was having lunch with my friend, Tom Cousins, who was on the search committee. Tom was really the principal recruiter in terms of the person I was talking to the most during the search, and we have maintained a friendship ever since, and I was frankly whining about the amount of travel I was having to do. This was after 9-11 and it just was difficult to get on and off airplanes three times a week and I was going all over the world with Heidrick, which is a huge search firm dealing with university issues, and he said, “Well, why don’t you just come work for our family foundation part time and do our educational programming?” and that sounded like a good deal and it has been. It’s been great. I have morphed from there into chairing the East Lake Foundation and the revitalization efforts in southeast Atlanta, and we are now just now embarking on an effort to try to take what we’ve learned from East Lake to others…that model to other cities across the country. So that’s very exciting. I don’t think I’m retirable really. I’ll probably just fall off the saddle sometime and that’ll be it, but I can’t see myself retiring at least now.

Well, we thank you. I wonder if there’s anything I haven’t asked that you wished I had asked.

We’ve had a good discussion. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m still a Bulldog. I want everybody to know, I’m a Bulldog forever. The last nights over the weekend, I found myself turning on ESPN2 rooting for the women’s softball team in their battle out there in Oklahoma City. We still take great pride, Lynne and I take great pride in the University and all it has accomplished and continues to accomplish, and it was a great period in our lives.

Thank you for your time today.

Thank you.

Back to scenes