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By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Knapp: Admissions scandals are ‘growing pains’ of GW’s restructuring

University President Steven Knapp addressed students at a forum last November after GW announced that its admissions office had inflated data for several years. Hatchet File Photo.
University President Steven Knapp addressed students at a forum last November after GW announced that its admissions office had inflated data for several years. Hatchet File Photo.
The spike in bad publicity that dragged GW through national headlines this year is just part of the “growing pains” for a school that’s restructuring and trying to move up, University President Steven Knapp said Tuesday.

In his first sit-down interview since The Hatchet reported GW misrepresented its need-aware policy for years, Knapp said recent admissions scandals were the consequences of an administrative structure that was too disconnected.

Both admissions revelations came after the provost’s office took control of the admissions, financial aid, student life and admissions offices last summer.

“It’s very easy for things off operating on their own to develop their own internal culture and way of doing things that are not transparent to anyone outside those institutions,” he said. “When you bring institutions together, you shed light on things that weren’t there previously.”

The University was also kicked off the U.S. News & World Report best college ranking last year when it admitted to inflating admissions data for at least a decade. It was put back on the list this year. The provost’s office had discovered and reported the admissions office’s data inflation when it took it over last fall.

Knapp said the move to take the student life offices out from under the former Division of Student and Academic Support Services followed his long-term strategy of “finding things to put together that in the short run would improve the experience of our students and in the long run increase the stature of the institution.”

“I could’ve come in and said, ‘Let’s keep a lid on everything the way it is and I’ll be here for a number of years and I’ll retire and live happily ever after.’ That’s not why I came here,” he said. “I came here to improve the institution. If you’re driving change in the institution, things are going to happen that people are unhappy about.”

The offices under SASS split up with the retirement of Robert Chernak, the former senior vice provost and senior vice president. Chernak, a mainstay under former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s administration, retired in 2012.

Former admissions head Kathryn Napper also stepped down in 2012, a month after the U.S. News scandal broke. GW brought in Laurie Koehler this year to take over as its enrollment manager.

Napper has not returned requests for comment. Chernak has declined to comment. No current official has stated why the University misrepresented itself as need-blind.

The two admissions disclosures set off a cascade of national media headlines, from The Atlantic and Gawker to ABC News and USA Today.

“I understand how the media operates on a very short-term basis, especially now with the 24-7 news cycle and the rest of that. And every institution has to live with that, but we can’t be cowed by that or dissuaded from doing what’s the interests of the institution,” Knapp said.

When asked whether he inherited a poorly organized university when he became president in 2007, Knapp said: “I had a pretty clear idea that things were separated that would be more effective if they were put together.” He also pointed to bringing together academic disciplines in the Science and Engineering Hall and the completion student life hub Colonial Crossroads.

Knapp said he was unaware of the financial aid misrepresentation and that Koehler determined that GW never touted the false policy in marketing campaigns. The University did, however, say it was need-blind on its admissions website and discussed the policy in information sessions with high school students.

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