Hope College withdraws motion to terminate President Knapp

On April 11, Hope College Provost Rich Ray stepped down at the request of President John Knapp. Knapp emphasized that his decision was not based on differing religious or social views or opinions.

“It is my belief that new and different leadership is needed for Hope’s academic program,” said Knapp in an email to students.

Ray has been at Hope over 30 years, but has only been provost since 2010. After a year-long leave of absence, Ray will return as a professor of kinesiology.

Jim Boelkins, Hope’s provost from 2002-2010, will take Ray’s place for the rest of this semester. Knapp is currently working on a transition plan for a new provost.

Shortly after this announcement, rumors began to spread about Knapp’s future. It was reputed that the Board of Trustees planned to immediately fire Knapp.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a leaked email from board chair Mary Bauman to the board stated that the Executive Committee removed their motion to recommend firing Knapp during a meeting on April 12.

“Our rationale for doing so at this time is that we believe it is in the best interests of the institution as a whole and because we are concerned about the health and unity of the board,” said Bauman in the leaked email.

The email continued to say the board is unanimous in their concerns about Knapp. It also stated that the next meeting on May 5-6 is dedicated to discussing this matter and hopefully coming to a solution.

The committee has not said why they motioned to have Knapp fired. However, many believe that it is a result of Knapp’s decision to ask Ray to step down.

Students were outraged at the fact that the president’s future was being questioned. Even parents and alumni illustrated their support by speaking out on Twitter and Facebook. Many expressed how they believe Knapp is a strong leader who truly cares about the college.

Students even went as far as creating a website, Hope4Knapp.org.

“We believe President Knapp to be a faithful Christian man as well as a strong, capable leader of this college, and so we offer this site as a resource to those looking to understand the current situation,” said the creators of the website.

This website’s goal is to demonstrate how Hope College has flourished under Knapp’s leadership and explain why it would be a mistake to fire Knapp. They believe that if Knapp is removed, the college’s accreditation would be in danger, its reputation would suffer and there may be a decline in donations.

To further demonstrate their support, on April 15 students and staff covered the lawn as they sat in silence protesting the suggestion of Knapp’s dismissal. They held signs saying “Students4Knapp.”

Knapp noticed the protest and simply waved at the students from his residence.

Knapp did not comment at the protest, but according to Inside Higher Ed, he sent an email that day which stated, “I recognize that this is a challenging time for the Hope community as many have become aware that the leaders of the college are seeking to resolve some disagreements.”

All the support for Knapp did not go unnoticed. On April 23, Bauman sent an email to the Hope community stating that the Executive Committee will not motion to have Knapp’s presidency terminated at the next meeting.

“Instead, we plan to devote time to reflect, discern and consider what is in the best interest of the Hope community,” said Bauman.

Bauman also said that the board would improve how they work through problems and disagreements. “I know that we need to earn back [the students’] trust and, over the coming weeks, I will work to do so.”

The Executive Committee will start earning the students’ trust back by choosing a team of board members to look at the issues and work with the president to resolve the issues.

“It is my hope and prayer that we can continue to refer back to our motto, ‘Spera in Deo’ (‘Hope in God’). It is based on two passages: Psalm 42:5 and Hebrews 6:19. I hope you will join me in looking to these verses now as we work together on a path forward,” ended Bauman in her email.

The college also released a statement that Hope’s commitment to their students and their success is what unites them.

“As the academic year comes to a close, the Hope College community has one priority right now: to help our students finish strong whether they are returning in the fall or graduating in May,” read the statement.