Dr. Robert Knott, Catawba College's 20th President, publicly announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2007-2008 academic year during an annual gathering of faculty and staff August 14th. Knott, who is entering his sixth year of service at the institution, said his planned retirement "was in the best interest of the College" and would allow new leadership "to build on what we've done and move into a new and exciting future."
"It has been my pleasure and an honor for Brenda and me to return to Catawba College," Knott said. "I hope each of you can look back on our time here and take some satisfaction in our collective successes. I see Catawba College as strong or stronger than it has ever been."
Knott said he had been in communication with College Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Smith and Vice Chairman Paul Fisher about his decision and that his office sent out a letter to all trustees announcing his retirement prior to the on-campus gathering of faculty and staff. He said Fisher would immediately pull together and chair a search committee with a goal to identify a new presidential candidate by late winter.
Identifying the new presidential candidate early will allow him or her to participate in the selection of the institution's chief academic officer and provost, a position currently filled on an interim basis this academic year by Dr. Jesse McCartney, Knott said. "Since the provost and the president must work closely and well together," Knott wrote in his memo to trustees, "it is important that a new president participate in the selection of a provost and that the successful candidate knows the president with whom he or she will be working."
McCartney, who had formerly served as executive assistant to the president and as a faculty member in the English Department, has also announced his plans to retire, like Knott, at the end of this academic year. A search committee will also be formed to find a candidate to serve as provost, Knott explained, with a selection expected in the spring.
With the conclusion of the 2007-2008 academic year, Knott will have completed two three-year contracts as president of Catawba. Under his leadership, the institution has faced challenges and made substantial progress toward achieving the goals set forth in its strategic plan.
This June, Catawba learned that it had successfully and unconditionally completed its reaffirmation of accreditation process with the Southern Association of Colleges and School, a process that is now undertaken every 10 years. With Knott at the helm, the College embarked on a campaign to grow its endowment and thereby make it competitive with its aspirant institutions. The goal for that endowment campaign was set at $35 million, a goal that has been exceeded and will likely surpass $40 million by the end of this academic year. With the goal of the campaign met and with another $30-35 million in pledges outstanding, Catawba's endowment will exceed $70 million.
During Knott's presidency, the institution embarked on an ambitious campus facilities campaign. It included the construction of five new residence halls comprising Abernethy Village, which are now open and housing upper class students; renovations to Hoke Hall, to house the college's information technology center; renovations to the Corriher-Linn-Black Library; and renovations and an addition to the Cannon Student Center. All projects included in the facilities campaign will be completed by the time Knott leaves office (May 2008).
Catawba's student body has also undergone some transformations under Knott's leadership. One of the goals of the strategic plan was to recruit students of stronger academic ability who would be able to persist in their college studies to graduation. During one recent recruiting year, the average SAT score for incoming students grew by 60 points and now stands at an all-time high. The current retention rate for freshmen to sophomore students stands at 72%.
The College has also made great strides in updating its information technology infrastructure on campus. Wireless connectivity is now available in all residence halls on campus and in the majority of other buildings. Last spring, laptop computers were deployed to faculty members and new equipment was installed in classrooms across campus to give faculty and their students broader access to interactive computer technology. A new scheduling software package and a new campus security card system have also been implemented and are in place with the advent of this academic term.
Knott plans a full and productive final year at Catawba. He shared six goals he has set for himself as president with faculty and staff. These include 1) continuing to upgrade the campus, both academically and culturally, with a focus on general education; 2) developing a strategic plan for the Ketner School of Business; 3) developing a strategic plan for the Center for the Environment; 4) developing a strategic plan for the School of Evening and Graduate Studies; 5) completion of renovation and expansion projects on campus; and 6) raising resources to complete the facilities work and to successfully operate the institution.
Knott served as Provost at Catawba between 1982 and 1989 before departing to serve as President of Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn., from 1989-1999. In 1999, he accepted a position as Chancellor of Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, N.C., a position he held until his return to Catawba as its President in 2002.
Other administrative positions Knott has held include Dean of the College at Arkansas College, and Academic Vice President and Dean of the college at Gardner-Webb College. He has taught philosophy at Catawba, Tusculum and Mars Hill, and mathematics at Wake Forest University.
Knott earned a B.S. in mathematics and physics/education from Wake Forest University, a B.D. in social ethics from Southeastern Seminary, an M.A. in religion and philosophy from Wake Forest University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy/higher education from SUNY/Buffalo. He has also completed additional graduate study in mathematics and physics at North Carolina State University and mathematics at Wake Forest University.
Married to Brenda Sue Harris, the couple has two adult children, Andrea Knott Brewer and Robert Knott, Jr., and three grandchildren. ;