| Lt. Gen. John Knapp addresses 2nd Class cadets. – VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
LEXINGTON, Va., April 14, 2011 – Lt. Gen. John Knapp ’54, the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. ’43 Visiting Professor in Leadership and Ethics, addressed 2nd Class cadets in the annual Gottwald Leadership Lecture series April 11 in Gillis Auditorium.
His lecture, “Professors: Eccentric and Exceptional,” focused on professors from VMI’s early history and was largely concerned with Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, whose teaching career Knapp defended.
“You have heard the story that he was stiff, demanding, and not a very good teacher,” said Knapp of Jackson. “There are two sides to every story.”
“Rote memorization and strict obedience were the commandments of his classroom, ” Knapp said, pointing out that he was practicing the normal mode of teaching at that time, which was very different from the lectures of today. He cited the early support and defense of Jackson offered by VMI’s first superintendent, Francis Smith.
“Jackson was an oddball. He had strange views about health. He had strange views about diet,” said Knapp, going on to refer to him as wonderfully eccentric, but with the exceptional characteristics necessary for a leader.
Knapp presented anecdotal descriptions of various professors, many humorous, but all illustrative of the leadership skills and dedication necessary in professors of the Institute.
“You must understand that they have decided to give their professional lives to this profession, and that profession is the hope that you will learn something,” he said.
Knapp’s tangential style covered a range of topics from the historical to the personal, spanning much of the history of the Institute.
The lecture was followed by a brief question and answer period, during which Knapp related the values of past professors to those of today’s Institute.
Knapp served as the 12th superintendent of VMI, from 1989 to 1995. He has the distinction of being the only superintendent to rise through the ranks from instructor to superintendent.
–John Robertson IV