John McKnight, who started as Haverford College’s new Dean of the College in July, has now been working for over three months. McKnight is the permanent hire for this position: when Martha Denney left her post as Dean in 2020 after eleven years at Haverford, Joyce Bylander stepped in as the Interim Dean for the 2020–21 academic year. As Dean of the College, his job description is to “oversee all aspects of student life at Haverford.”
In some ways, Dean McKnight has always been connected to the world of education; both of his parents worked in higher education when he was growing up. However, McKnight was first drawn to education himself when he was an undergrad. At the University of Florida, McKnight served as an orientation leader – a position only given to about thirty students in a school of tens of thousands. As an orientation leader, McKnight stayed on campus all summer long, where he managed large cohorts of students and helped advise their families. During this time, McKnight discovered that he enjoyed working with college students and being a peer mentor.
Because of these experiences, he went on to pursue both a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in leadership and administration studies. At times, he was tempted to become an education professor, but decided to stay in administration because he “wanted to influence the lived experiences of students in a positive way.” After graduating, he held many different positions in educational administration, including being the Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion at Connecticut College and having similar responsibilities at both Lafayette College and Lehigh University.
As part of his dissertation, titled “Brothers in the Struggle: A Phenomenological Study of White Male College Student Development as Social Justice Allies”, he conducted some research on students at Haverford. During that time, Haverford made an impression on McKnight. He said, “I could tell it was a highly intellectual community and the people were deeply committed to social justice.” McKnight feels the core values of Haverford have not changed, but the needs and expectations of the community have advanced over the years. He hopes to be part of an effort to better help the next generation of students.
As Dean of the College, McKnight manages dozens of people and many different offices that are crucial for the operation of the school. Thus, in order to lead a large organization effectively, McKnight feels he has to be a “methodical” worker. He does have a list of goals for the college that he keeps private, but he was willing to share that his top priority for this semester was to “come in with humility, learn as I’m working, and see how I fit in.”
As for his longer term goals, McKnight wants to have better tools for assessing the effectiveness of the ways the administration tries to support students. He says the administration should know if we are meeting our intended outcomes. McKnight also wants to provide more extracurricular resources for students, so that Haverford can provide a more holistic educational experience for their students. He believes that students should feel like what they are doing both inside and outside the classroom makes sense. McKnight is excited to work with his colleagues to further develop confidence among students and better prepare students for life after college. McKnight has found that his coworkers share his “deep care for students and … this [care] is why I’m attracted to small colleges.”
Outside of Haverford, McKnight describes himself as a “family man.” His wife also works in education, as a counselor in the Philadelphia public school system. They have a twelve-year-old son, a nine-year old-daughter, and a goldendoodle puppy named Justice. When the whole family is together, they like to do “outdoorsy things, like hiking, going to concerts, and supporting Haverford athletics.”