When he arrived in 1991, Knowles found the Faculty in dire economic straits, carrying an annual deficit of more than $10 million. Knowles stressed strict, sometimes controversial, fiscal discipline that brought FAS budgets under control. Eleven years later, FAS is running a multi-million dollar surplus.
Under his watch, the Faculty raised more than $1 billion for capital projects and Knowles personally oversaw major initiatives across all major academic areas.
He consolidated humanities Faculty under one roof in the revamped Barker Center. In the social sciences, he pushed for the creation of an expansive government center, plans for which remain in the works. And in the natural sciences, he sought more laboratory space and initiatives in genomics and other cutting-edge science fields.
In the arena of undergraduate education, Knowles created a committee to help him continually review the quality of the Faculty’s curriculum. He lobbied for expanded freshman seminars, smaller sections and closer interaction between students and professors.
In recent years, Knowles made increasing the size of the Faculty a priority. But, though in the past decade the number of tenured Faculty increased by a tenth, Knowles fell far short of his goal of endowing 40 new professorships.
With charisma, humor and patience, Knowles shaped an agenda of fiscal discipline, expansion and quality control.
Breaking The News
Yesterday morning Knowles sent a letter to the Faculty via e-mail notifying professors of his resignation.
While the announcement was sudden, it was not unexpected.
Many Faculty and administrators said they had expected Knowles to step down in the near future, since he had long made it clear he intended to serve roughly a decade as dean.
“People were wondering whether he might resign this year or next,” said Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn.
“I think many of us expected he would stay on through the presidential transition to make sure there was continuity and at some point he’d seek to pass the baton,” said Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Peter T. Ellison.
Knowles told The Crimson yesterday that he had long felt his departure from the deanship should shortly follow the selection of a new University president.
“Several years ago, I thought about this and decided that an overlap of a year was probably best for the institution and the Faculty,” he said.
When he started the job in 1991, Knowles said, he had planned to serve about 10 years. He is currently serving his 11th year in a position whose average tenure has, in recent history, been about six years.