Dr. Garikai Campbell will join the Knox community in June as the College's new provost and dean of the College. He most recently served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and previously served as associate vice president for strategic planning at Swarthmore College.
Campbell received his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Swarthmore and earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Rutgers University. He returned to Swarthmore as a member of the faculty in 1997, and, subsequently, held several leadership positions. In 2013, Campbell joined the administration at Morehouse, where he facilitated the first change to the general education program in nearly three decades, enhanced the culture of shared governance, and reshaped the academic leadership. He played an instrumental role in securing resources for academic programs and broader institutional needs, including a $1.2 million grant from the Gates Foundation to develop and evaluate innovative student success initiatives.
"I am eager to gain a better understanding of the College and its community-to understand the culture, the traditions, the things that make the place tick," Campbell told Knox Magazine.
What drew you to this position at Knox?
First and foremost, Knox is an excellent liberal arts institution. I believe wholly, as Knox does, that "every experience is a kind of education," that immersive opportunities can be great catalysts for development, and that the relationship between faculty and students is critical to achieving great outcomes.
Equally important, Knox has a deep commitment to diversity and access-a core value which has roots in the College's history and mission. Throughout my career, I've been able to expand my scope of impact. As a faculty member, I was passionate about working with students and helping all my students be as successful as possible. I paid particular attention to students who might ordinarily fall between the cracks—those underrepresented in some way or students who didn't come in knowing how to navigate the sometimes-opaque college environment, for example. In becoming an administrator, I focused more broadly on how to make changes at the institutional level that support student success. As provost, I began to think not only about how institutions can be better for the students they serve, but also about the impact an institution can have in the larger ecosystem of higher education and, through their students, in this nation and in the world.
Knox College is a place that not only believes higher education can be an engine of social and financial mobility for those of all backgrounds and experiences but works hard to live up to that goal. That commitment resonates with me, and I am excited to have the opportunity to be a part of an institution with that kind of vision and determination.
What do you believe are Knox's greatest strengths? And greatest challenges?
In addition to all that attracted me to Knox—its excellence as a liberal arts institution, history and mission, commitment to diversity, drive to be an agent of change for its students' lives—I have also been struck by the strength of the College's community and the resolve around its values. At the heart of the institution, there seems to be a care for each other among the faculty and staff and a care for the students combined with what seems to be a genuine belief in and commitment to the College's mission. While I look forward to discovering more strengths, I have to believe that the Knox community, its values, and the College's commitment to those values are among its greatest assets.
As for challenges, almost every institution of higher education is struggling to deal with a financial model that is tough on both the institution and the families of students who want to attend the institution. This is true of colleges and universities of every type—public and private, intensely competitive to open enrollment, those with little wealth to even many whose endowments are quite large. I think that this is a challenge that applies to Knox as well, but because it is so ubiquitous across the entire higher education landscape, perhaps it isn't so helpful to simply cite the financial model as an institution's greatest challenge.
Digging a bit deeper, like in many other instances, I see a serious challenge for Knox. In particular, I have been struck by the degree to which Knox's location is both a challenge and an opportunity. Which students (and faculty and staff) are attracted to the institution; academic year internship (and other) opportunities for students; and potential partnerships with corporate, academic, or other organizations are all affected by the school's location, and ultimately have an impact on the College's finances. I think we will need to think innovatively about how to best leverage our location on one hand, and how to augment the Knox experience in ways that neutralize any challenges about our location on the other. I actually look forward to working with the campus to hear ideas and test some possibilities on this front.
Please discuss the importance of a liberal arts education in the 21st century.
First, there is often a tension between a liberal arts education and a more focused learning environment, one that people articulate as more practical. I don't like those dichotomies, most importantly, because I think they are false. The liberal arts are quite practical and what we typically classify as vocational can, in fact, be a wonderful component of liberal learning. I think that Knox's own history of having started out as Knox Manual Labor College, with its original thinking on the important interplay between work and learning, through to the College's current position on the importance of experiential and active learning are testament to the inaccuracy of that dichotomy.
More directly, the 21st century is an extraordinarily complex, globally connected environment where technology and our ability to engage and relate to each other are changing rapidly, making broad thinking and the capacity to engage in continuous learning a necessity. It is thought that between 65 percent and 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 don't exist today. We are currently doubling human knowledge about every year, and that rate is accelerating. And there are ethical, environmental, political and social issues mounting. A liberal arts education is, in my view, critical to producing the citizens capable of not only operating effectively in this new world, but also being able to solve the challenges we face as a global society.
Knox is in the process of developing a variety of new academic programs. What experience and expertise can you bring to this process?
I am coming to Knox having just engaged in a process of revamping the general education curriculum at Morehouse and having been involved in conversations around strategic planning at Swarthmore that included discussion of their curriculum. In each of these processes, I have investigated models that engage in everything from integrated learning to the use of adaptive and other online technologies to high-impact practices like community-based learning and undergraduate research opportunities; I have implemented ways to augment the work of the curriculum outside of the traditional academic programs through work such as career pathway support, changes to advising and mentoring, and adding an abbreviated January term as a time to innovate pedagogically; and I helped create, along with faculty and staff, plans for new research and engagement centers.
I believe that one of my strengths as an administrator—and something that I enjoy doing—is organizing conversations with faculty and other members of the academic community around these important curricular questions and helping find answers to the questions that ultimately guide what the next steps ought to be. I'm excited about getting to Knox and having these conversations, not to repeat what's already been done, but, hopefully, to figure out a way to move forward that makes the most sense for the College.
Are there any new areas of study or innovation that you believe Knox should pursue?
I believe there was a time when institutions had greater luxury to operate in ways that were entirely independent of external forces; they could think of new ideas for programs on their own and make them work. But, this really has become a luxury for most institutions. More than ever, as we plan our offerings and experiences, it is imperative that we at least consider factors far beyond the intellectual and academic merit of a program—whether they be market or resource-driven forces. These forces will have to be part of what guides us as we think about what programs we need to grow or add and what programs we may need to shrink or sunset. There may be times when we need to set aside what the market says and offer a specific program, but whenever we make that decision, we have to be very intentional; it cannot be accidental.
These are tough decisions, and I think we as institutions have to become more practiced at incorporating a larger range of parameters into our conversations about the future as we make changes to our academic programs. All of this is to say that I don't know that I can answer the question of what we might need that would be new, but rather have a sense of the way we need to structure the conversations we need to have to get at the answer.
You have experience in both academic affairs and student development. How do you believe these two areas work together, particularly at a residential college?
I have valued enormously the experience that I had in the student affairs office at Swarthmore. It was an opportunity for me to have my eyes opened to the full breadth and range of student experiences and student challenges. A college that prepares students best helps the whole student, not just their intellectual development; it helps them in all of the ways they are human. A person's intellectual development overlaps and intersects with their emotional security and their social capacities, and our ability to develop a person intellectually depends on the work student development does and vice versa. It isn't always easy and there are absolutely times when we need to compartmentalize certain elements of our work, but it's critical that we develop the whole student.
What do you hope to contribute to Knox during your tenure?
I wouldn't have been attracted to Knox if the College didn't already support a fully diverse group of students, helping them go out and become what they want to become. But I would like to see Knox become more of a recognized leader and innovator in this area—an institution that people talk about when it comes to being a true engine of social mobility. I think that there are questions about resourcing that are critical to fulfilling this aspiration, and I hope that I can bring tremendous value to Knox's ability to resource the work that it needs to get that work done, whether that means increasing the salaries of those under my purview or providing the kind of physical space needed to provide a compelling educational experience.
In part, that means talking with faculty, students, and staff to best understand what it is we need to provide a Knox education and then synthesizing those ideas so that President Amott and the Advancement staff have the right information. It's about taking the community's ideas and sharing them with the world in ways that say, "Hey, we are worthy of investment. We are doing great stuff. We are important to the ecosystem, and we need your partnership to bring these ideas to life."
In short, I'm excited about magnifying our work and our capacity to do that work.
Any additional comments that you'd like to share that haven't been covered above?
As I transition into my new role at Knox, I am eager to gain a better understanding of the College and its community—to understand the culture, the traditions, the things that make the place tick. I will bring my own thoughts and ideas to my role as provost and dean, but it is fundamentally important for me to get to know Knox, and my first goal is to figure out how to do that quickly.
I also look forward to understanding how what we do as an institution and in academic affairs, in particular, can be a part of the Galesburg community. I believe that institutions of higher education should be assets to their space, and I look forward to getting to know Galesburg and its surrounding communities and hope that we can truly be partners.