Springtime at Denison is a time for farewells, as students finish required papers and take final exams, while seniors prepare for Commencement and life after college. This spring, Denisonians also are saying goodbye to the college’s 19th president, Dale T. Knobel, who will complete 15 years of leadership at Denison on June 30, having taken the college to new heights as a nationally recognized, selective, residential liberal arts college. He has served the second longest term in the college’s history, after that of A. Blair Knapp (1951-1968). This Sunday, Knobel will preside over his last Denison Commencement ceremony.
He will depart with two new Denison titles, President Emeritus and Professor of History Emeritus, and an honorary membership in the Hilltoppers, a men’s a cappella group that regularly asks him to join them in song. He got to know a bit of their repertoire early in his career at Denison when some of the men were living and rehearsing in the Monomoy Annex behind his home.
President Knobel began a strategic planning process soon after his arrival in 1998 to create a vision for Denison’s future, committing the college to securing its place among the nation’s leading undergraduate colleges of arts and sciences. This vision paved the way for the Higher Ground Campaign that far surpassed its goal, raising $178 million to support Denison people, programs, and facilities.
Knobel’s presidency was marked by an increase in multicultural faculty (from 15 percent in 1998 to nearly 26 percent today) and multicultural student enrollment (from 14 percent in 1998 to 31 percent today). It was also marked by a successful effort to reduce the student-to-faculty ratio to 10:1; the doubling of admissions applications to the college; and a substantial increase in the number of admitted students who rank among the top 10 percent of their high school classes (38 percent when Knobel came on board and over 50 percent today).
At the beginning of his presidency Knobel assured the faculty and the trustees that they should not expect him to be a “building president,” but time proved him wrong. Along with creating new facilities like the Burton D. Morgan Center and the Samson Talbot Hall of Biological Science flanking the Reese~Shackelford Common, as well as numerous apartment-style residence halls, the college under President Knobel’s leadership “recycled” and renewed many older buildings. Historic Cleveland Hall became the modern Bryant Arts Center; Ebaugh Chemistry Laboratories were enlarged and rebuilt; the 1940s Life Science Building became today’s Higley Hall; significant renovations took place in major classroom buildings like Knapp and Fellows; and Chamberlin Hall emerged from a historic fraternity building. The newly expanded Mitchell Center now houses the Trumbull Aquatics Center, a spacious natatorium with a 50-meter Olympic pool and separate diving pool, and the bi-level 80,000-square-foot Crown Fitness Center, which will be completed this summer.
President Knobel, a native of Hudson, Ohio, earned a B.A., cum laude from Yale University in 1971 and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1976, where he taught history for a year. In 1977, he joined the history faculty of Texas A&M University where he spent the next 19 years in both teaching and administrative roles. During that time he published widely as a historian of American ethnic and race relations. In 1996, he became Provost and Dean of the faculty at Southwestern University, Texas’ oldest private liberal arts college in Georgetown, north of Austin.
After just two years at Southwestern, Denison welcomed the president and his wife, Tina, to our fair college on the hill, and to their new home in Granville, Monomoy Place. Since then, in addition to their responsibilities at Denison, both have been deeply involved in Granville, Licking County, and Ohio civic activities, raising funds for charity and serving as leaders at The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art, & Technology; the Newark Midland Theater; the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra; the Center for Disability Services; the Granville Historical Society; the Robbins Hunter Museum; the Think Pink Fundraiser for Breast Cancer; the Granville Centenary United Methodist Church; the Lakeside Chautauqua Association; the Granville Garden Club; and PEO (the Women’s Philanthropic Educational Organization).
In December, Knobel was honored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education with its Chief Executive Leadership Award for District V. The distinction was given in honor of Knobel’s “outstanding leadership and service in support of education.” Among several local organizations recently recognizing Knobel for his engagement in the community and his contributions to higher education are the Rotary Club of Granville and the Granville Chamber of Commerce.
During the Denison Board of Trustees meeting in April, the official portrait of the 19th president, painted by New England artist Robert Anderson, was unveiled and hung in the Presidents’ Room of the William Howard Doane Library. In addition, the former Welsh Hills Room in the Burton D. Morgan Center has been renamed Knobel Hall in honor of President and Mrs. Knobel.
The Knobels are moving back to Georgetown, Texas, where he plans to author two new books and return to writing as an historian. They also will have the joy of living near their grandsons, Grant Matthew and Connor, and their son-in-law, Daron Sitton.
Dale and Tina will be genuinely missed—but never forgotten.
On July 1, Adam Weinberg, currently the CEO of World Learning in Brattleboro, Vt., will assume Denison’s presidency. We’ll bring you more information on the college’s 20th president this fall.