AAC&U Mourns the Unexpected Passing of Its Beloved Senior Scholar, L. Lee Knefelkamp
"Lee Knefelkamp shaped American higher education in profound and lasting ways. We are deeply saddened by her passing and know that her life and legacy will continue to influence all that we do at AAC&U." Lynn Pasquerella, AAC&U President
AAC&U acknowledges Lee’s extraordinary work to make liberal education inclusive throughout her career.
L. Lee Knefelkamp
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) mourns the death of L. Lee Knefelkamp, who passed away unexpectedly on September 7, 2018. Most recently, she had been professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University and senior scholar at AAC&U.
If AAC&U senior scholars were awarded tenure, Lee Knefelkamp would have earned it long ago. As much as AAC&U has benefitted from the intellectual and professional contributions from so many inspiring and brilliant leaders in higher education over the years, she has influenced the direction and content of major AAC&U initiatives, meetings, and conferences longer and more profoundly than perhaps any other senior scholar. This is in part because of her ability not only to widen the intellectual horizon on educational questions but also to touch the hearts and lives of all those who worked with her.
Lee was a central and formative voice in all of AAC&U's work from 1992 to the present—American Commitments: Democracy, Diversity, and Liberal Education, which radically redirected our vision of liberal learning for a democracy still struggling toward meaningful inclusion of all its people; Greater Expectations, which provided a new catalyst to make excellence inclusive rather than exclusive; Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), which has become a movement for educational redesign across US higher education and even around the world; and Core Commitments: Education for Personal and Social Responsibility, which restored the centrality of personal and social responsibility to every student’s college education. She was passionately devoted to this and other work because she believed so deeply that every student deserves the transformative liberal learning that college ought to provide.
Lee was an extraordinary scholar, teacher, and mentor. Nowhere was that more evident to AAC&U than in her passionate commitment to AAC&U’s K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award, with which Lee had been centrally affiliated since it began. A close friend and professional colleague of Pat Cross, Lee honored Pat’s own contribution to higher education by nurturing, with care and specificity, a new generation of the professoriate to become pathbreaking scholars, committed teachers, and socially caring professionals concerned about the larger world we inhabit together. She helped select the scholars and developed a recurring special session at AAC&U’s annual meeting tailored to put them at the center, inspiring and stretching boundaries of those already firmly ensconced in academia. Her generosity and warmth toward every generation of Pat Cross Scholars always affirmed their value and their potential to continue to transform higher education and work magic in the classroom.
The supremacy of students’ intellectual and personal development was reflected in everything Lee did, from her scholarship, teaching, choice of projects to which she lent her expertise, and the number of dissertation committees she agreed to be on. As a consultant to Bringing Theory to Practice, whose office is at AAC&U, she was offered a canvas on which that commitment was writ large, and Lee painted every corner of that closely woven fabric.
Lee was a mesmerizing public speaker tapped by AAC&U and so many others again and again for her eloquence, wisdom, humor, and unforgettable storytelling from the podium. Audiences left with new frameworks for thinking about a subject, dozens of scholars to pursue further whose words peppered every speech, and new inspiration for risking and committing more to educating students responsibly and creatively. But it was also her private, unseen stealth gestures that connected her to all those she met: the gift box on the doorstep, the enormous box of cookies purchased for AAC&U staff whenever she visited, the book sent through the mail unsolicited but exactly what you didn’t know you were longing for. She created circles of caring that inspired everyone who knew her, personally and educationally.
Her legacy is like that of the pebble tossed into the still pond, causing circles to expand ever outward, shifting the surface as well as the deeper currents below the surface. She will be sorely missed but achingly, lovingly remembered.
Remembrances of Lee
Carol Geary Schneider, President Emerita
Lee Knefelkamp was an extraordinary teacher, scholar, mentor, and friend. She created circles of care that inspired everyone who knew her, personally and educationally. Lee was my dearest friend, and I will miss her every day. But for the AAC&U community and for me, and for her students in all parts of the globe, her lessons and spirit live on in the fabric of our shared work.
Richard Guarasci, AAC&U chairman of the board of directors and president of Wagner College
Lee lives on through those she touched, and her flame burns brightly. Her scholarship, and her work with AAC&U had a profound, direct impact on a vast number of universities and colleges, and hundreds of faculty and scholars, in the areas of student moral development, diversity, inclusion and social equity.
Lee was the most loving and amazing friend, but most of all, she was always a teacher. She embodied for me the ideal of the teacher.
She was endlessly empathetic but also curious and as committed as anyone I have ever met to the idea that diversity in all its dimensions made life better. She believed deeply in not just the "ideal" of liberal education but the potential of liberal education to adapt with the times and enable all of us to use learning to make the world a better place. She also was just always able to find humor, humanity and love in life's twists and turns.
There were many in her life, but she somehow never lost her sense of wonder and love.
Paul Gaston, Trustees Professor, Kent State University
The following is quintessential Lee, from an email she sent me just a little more than two months ago. She had returned to Winchester, the home of Shenandoah University, one of many towns where she enjoyed many friends. She offered the following wonderful observation:
"Saturday was the FIRST Winchester gay rights parade... not much of a parade but 2,000 happy people and lots of good cheer......my favorite:
the AMISH family (in full dress) baked goods stall at the center of it all......flying the rainbow flag.......gives you hope in these somewhat hopeless times."
May Lee's kind, generous, loving soul rest in peace.
Judith Ramaley, Distinguished Fellow, AAC&U
A conversation with Lee always led to something unexpected. Somehow, she always found a way to speak to my condition, to expand the thought, to look at an idea from an angle that I would not have seen on my own. From that knowing twinkle in her eye to her uncanny ability to say exactly what needed to be said, she was a friend, a friend that I shall always remember and call to mind when I need a measure of wisdom and humor and warmth.
Jeffrey C. Sun, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Higher Education & Law, University of Louisville
I participated with the interactive audience in a packed room. I laughed at the constant flow of witty lines. I cried at the emotional intensity of the central characters. I was mesmerized by the profoundly artful, yet scientifically-based, construction and application of human behavior beyond any literary or theatrical masterpiece ever read/seen; and I was challenged to the point of brain neurons firing away like the 4th of July with independent thinking and processing intended to change the world – beyond anything Bill Perry could have cognitively conceived or George Counts could have socially [re]constructed. Yes, I just replayed a quick 2-hour session in any one of Lee Knefelkamp’s classes, and I haven’t even discussed the many significant ways in which she has changed my personal and professional life.
Lee, we will miss you!
Laura A. Wankel, Sr. Advisor for Strategic Initiatives to the Senior Vice Provost for Educational Innovation, Northeastern University
I had the privilege of working with Lee when she served as the Chair of my dissertation committee many years ago when she first arrived at Teachers College. It was an amazing experience to work with her! Her ability to say a few words and open up new pathways to follow was truly amazing. I will be forever grateful for her wisdom, guidance, advocacy and mentorship. A giant among us for sure!
David Scobey, Bringing Theory to Practice
I will cherish Lee's irreplaceable mix of warmth, wisdom, intellectual generosity, lack of BS, and love of students. And affectionate hugs. And multiple exclamations points in email. And brilliant, witty insights in panels, articles, conversations. At a conference last month--was it her last?--I heard her describe the curriculum as "the Trojan Horse that sneaks complexity and contradiction into students' lives." I miss you, Lee!!!!!
Denny Roberts, presence in learning
Lee Knefelkamp is remembered for many things. I remember her for her ability to bring theory to life in service to students' learning. Whether it was cognitive, identity, cultural, or other developmental schema, Lee integrated across theories and constantly pushed toward deeper understanding. When studying with her in the 1970s at the University of Maryland and joining with colleagues on Saturday mornings for rater training on the William G. Perry scheme of cognitive and ethical development, she often reminded us that learning was ultimately a process of exposing our vulnerabilities. She was present in mind and spirit then and will continue to be for those who have probed with her throughout her teaching and learning life.
Denny Roberts describes well the exciting times with Lee at the University of Maryland bringing theory to practice, pushing the edges of its application by integrating across theoretical models. It was an exciting and inspiring time. I found my mind set on fire by the ideas; but I also gained so much from how she built a community of scholars deeply committed to the work and working together for the benefit of those we served. That combination of pushing the limits of one's present thinking while building a community of people passionate for and about change has lived with me throughout my personal and professional career.
Uttam Gaulee, 2016 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Recipient
I still feel Lee’s tap on my shoulder. As a recipient of K. Patricia Cross Award, I was attending the centennial meeting of AAC&U in Washington DC in early 2016. She welcomed us all, introduced us to everyone, and provided us with the incredible opportunity to lead the panel on inclusive excellence. A moment came the middle of the panel when someone pulled the discussion away from the theme, which made me anxious. Lee leaned over and rubbed my shoulder as I tried to bring the conversation back to track. We will miss you, Lee!
Erin Rentschler, 2015 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Recipient
As a Cross Scholar in 2015, Lee touched my professional career with her kindness and respect. She treated me as a colleague even though I was being awarded as a future scholar, and she clearly was dedicated to helping each of us celebrate the achievement and recognition, at times nudging us to accept it as an honor and at other times gently reminding us of the responsibility we held to carry forth in our work. Our crossing was brief, but meaningful and memorable. I wish peace and comfort to those who knew Lee well and feel her loss most deeply.
Such a loss. For over 20 years she was kind and fun, in addition to making the many contributions to hundreds of lives through her research and practice, mine included.
I came to Maryland to pursue my Ph.D. specifically to work with Lee. I had been mentored in my Master's program at Ohio State by her collaborator, Carole Widick, with whom she translated student development theory for practitioners, and Carole pushed me towards Lee when it came time to pursue my doctorate. Studying with her was a challenge and a privilege.
Some Lee gems:
"Teaching is an ego-threatening task."
"Enabling structures matter."
"Yes, development occurs through a delicate balance of challenge and support--but what constitutes challenge and what constitutes support can differ from one day to the next and one student to the next."
Oh, she could tell a story! Perhaps most importantly, she gently invited us into the community of scholars.
Andrew P. Haley, 2001 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Recipient
As the first in my family (and extended family), to seek a doctorate, I often felt like I did not know what I was doing. That was certainly true when I boarded the plane to receive the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. Lee Knefelkamp's warmth helped to make the most alien of experiences possible and understandable, and her example continues to shape the way I teach and what I tell the next generation of scholars. I still don't understand academia as well as I would like, but I know that she will be missed.
Mona Eskandari, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Mechanical Engineering, UC-Riverside, 2017 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Scholar
She was a force to be reckoned with. One of those people that was truly present. Her passing is a great loss. Not sure how many people can say they did what they were put on earth to do, but Lee did; she made this world a better place. All I can do is be thankful for having had such an advocate in my life and hope to strive to make her legacy live on.
Tom Grites, Assistant Provost, Stockton University, 2000 Tom Magoon Award
Lee and I connected in several different ways. I never had her as a (classroom) teacher, but I first met and learned from her just after I completed my CAPS Ph.D. in May of 1974. I had heard of her work with Bill Perry and I was working in the College of Education Dean's Office when Lee came to Maryland, so I made it a point to get to know her. I left Maryland in 1977 and have been at Stockton, a liberal arts institution, ever since.
During my first year here I was part of the founding Steering Committee for NACADA and chaired 3 consecutive Conference Programs. Needless to say, I was pleased to be able to secure both Bill and Lee as keynoters for the Fourth National Conference on Academic Advising. I also convinced them both to conduct a faculty development workshop on my campus a year or so later, and then again persuaded Lee to keynote another NACADA National Conference in Philadelphia a few years after that. I still use their work in my undergraduate course at Stockton.
Many years later I re-connected with Lee at Teachers College where I was teaching (adjunct) a course in the College Teaching and Academic Leadership program there. Fortunately (for me), she asked me to continue the course, which I did for a couple of years.
Through all of these relationships I always learned from Lee, and I continued to follow her efforts even after I stopped teaching at Teachers College. I always asked whomever I met from there or students whom I knew were going there if they had met and/or knew Lee; most had and had nothing but great things to say about her. I can only echo those same thoughts as I reflect on my connections with such a wonderful scholar and person who will truly be missed.
Gail Evans, Retired Dean of Undergraduate Studies, San Francisco State University; AAC&U Senior Fellow
As many have said, Lee was the consummate scholar, teacher, mentor and friend. We met about 15 years ago when she mentored our team from SJSU at the Greater Expectations Institute, and following that year I had the privilege of working with her at many of the AAC&U Institutes. She was always in high demand, regardless of the type of Institute, because of her wide breadth of knowledge, teaching skills, and devoted caring. I was honored to be Lee's friend and colleague, and will always treasure the times we have shared. I will miss her, but she will remain in my heart. Rest in peace, my dear Lee.
I was blessed & honored to have been taught, coached, & mentored by Lee Knefelkamp while she was on faculty of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC). I am forever grateful for her contributions to higher education, my learning, & career.
Hannah K Miller, Northern Vermont University, 2015 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award
Although I knew Lee only from my time as a Cross Scholar, her work and presence had a lasting impact on my professional life.
As young scholars trying to find our way in academia, Lee helped us understand that we DID belong there and our voices DID make a difference, which I returned to when I faced challenges during the job search and early career. Her encouragement and support were invaluable during the transition from student to professor, which was a scary, unfamiliar space for many of us. She was an outstanding role model. Three cheers to Lee and the many scholars she inspired in her lifetime!
Elizabeth Ciabocchi, Ed.D., Vice Provost for Digital Learning, St. John's University
"You are not an admissions mistake!" That was one of the first sentences that I ever heard Lee utter in my very first course with her at Teachers College in 1998. As one of her colleagues stated earlier in these comments, studying with Lee was both a challenge and privilege. She was an amazing mentor and role model in academe, and in life. She had much more of an impact on my personal life and career than she ever knew, and I am so grateful for the time I had with her at TC. My deepest condolences to her beloved family, friends and colleagues.
I am beyond fortunate to have worked with Lee during my 16 years at AAC&U and to have had her vision, guidance, and support in all matters related to the Network for Academic Renewal conference programs. Her keen understanding of the kinds of information, conversations, and practices that would help those on the forefront of teaching and learning advance a practical, liberal education for all students, was invaluable in developing each Network conference program. No matter what the subject of the conference, when we would ask conference planning committee members for recommended speakers, Lee’s name would be mentioned. Her participation as concept adviser, proposal selection committee member, keynote speaker, workshop leader, discussion facilitator, and behind the scenes mentor were instrumental in ensuring that the programs connected to the compelling higher education issues of the day. Lee could always be counted on to step in at the last minute to lead a session when the presenter had to cancel - always with outstanding success as acknowledged by the participants. She had a very big heart, a boundless intellect, cared deeply about the well-being of every individual, and put others before herself in everything she said and did.
She was a very dear friend from whom I learned so much. Thank you, Lee, for all that you taught us, the times we laughed together, and the insights that we discovered through and with you. Your spirit will remain with me forever.
MAJ Sam Torres, Eisenhower Leader Development Program, Teacher's College, Columbia University
Dr. K as we affectionately called her walked into the room at the United States Military Academy with a huge smile and an even bigger bag of cookies. She was an amazing leader, coach, teacher, and mentor. We all very quickly realized she was the real Leader in that room. Her lessons were the highlight of the ELDP program, and she will be truly missed.
From Skies of Blue!
Susan McWilliams, Assistant Provost, University of Southern Maine
Lee was instrumental in all of the LEAP work we have done at USM. As a scholar in residence she provided critical guidance and leadership as we embarked on curricular reform. As an AAC&U summer institute faculty member she mentored numerous teams of USM faculty and staff. She was a source of inspiration, wisdom, and kindness to so many of us. We are grateful for the gift of her teaching.
Amy Hamlin, Associate Professor of Art History and Mission Chair for Liberal Arts, St. Catherine University
Lee was and remains a guiding star for all of us who care deeply about student-centered education and the vital life of the mind.
I was honored to meet and share the stage with her this summer at Liberal Arts Illuminated @csbsju. Her insights and storytelling captivated everyone in the room; it was magic. Reviewing my notes, here are a few remarkable phrases and questions:
- "illumination as an identity construct"
- "architects and stone masons, whirling dervishes and labyrinths"
- "enlightenment and illumination equal discernment"
- "the curriculum, it's leaking all the time"
- "how do our students come to complexity?"
What a beautiful mind and heart.
May we all have the courage to follow her lead. Rest in Power, Lee.
Pearl Bartelt, AAC&U Senior Fellow
Most of all, I will remember her joy in introducing the Cross Future Leaders each year. She will be missed by so many.
When Lee came to Tufts as a keynote for our teaching conference, she came for the full two days and engaged fully. From the first time we talked on the phone, it was clear that she was special, unique, and one of those people you immediately feel like you have known your whole life.
She listened deeply and responded thoughtfully. There would be no canned speech from her. Her keynote on inclusive excellence was funny, insightful, personal and challenging in the best possible way. But my favorite moment of the conference was when I realized she did not have a bottle of water, and it seemed as though she needed one. I approached the stage, she took the bottle, opened it and quickly said "Mmm, gin!" So funny and such a love. I am sorry to have such a bright light go out, but know that she made a difference in this world with each person she met.
Back in 1993, Lee was my dissertation advisor—it was Lee who suggested that I consider William Perry's schema for diving deeply into student writing samples to understand student development. I will never forget the day I defended my dissertation. She said, "Great job! Come into my office, I have Bill on the phone." Who??? "Bill Perry," she said. "I sent him your dissertation, and he wants to congratulate you!" Need I say more?
So...Lee was my mentor, my cheerleader who constantly challenged me to be the best I could be...my dear friend. Over the years, as we continued to find each other at AAC&U meetings, we reconnected over family stories and personal growth stories. I cannot think of anyone who had a more generous and generative spirit than Lee, or who gave us all such "grin-full" memories!
Having known Lee since the late 1980s and working with her on many projects, or just being in the room with her, was always so special--intellectually and humorously. She was a role model for her peers and much loved.
Will miss her humor, clear and always insightful words, and her ability to listen and share. I will always remember her saying to me when I was going through a difficult time, "So, you got your head chopped off. So what! Just keep going!" Liberal education and all of us are much richer because of Lee.
Lorna Duphiney Edmundson
So many memorable moments come to mind in our personal and professional relationship that spanned four decades: Lee, inviting me to join her as a Visiting Scholar in Teacher's College's signature doctoral program in Higher Education and Academic Leadership - the beginning of my coming to understand the full power of her intellect, kindness, generosity and commitment to students; Lee, mesmerizing the audience at my first inauguration as a college president; Lee, gleefully demonstrating to her child development class how one can elicit "conversation" with a 4-month-old child, engaging my baby daughter as the class "guest"; Lee, a warm and witty guest in our home on many occasions throughout the years; Lee, who left a legacy of ground-breaking and inspiring scholarship that remains fresh, insightful and timely. How blessed we were to have her. How deeply I will miss her.
Susan Singer, Rollins College
Amy Hamlin so beautifully captured my memories of my last time with Lee at the Liberal Arts Illuminated Conference. Lee always had a fresh perspective that both inspired and challenged. I will forever treasure my time sitting next to her and imagining ways to advance inclusive pedagogy for a couple of days at St. Johns and St. Bens this summer. She was off to her family farm and horse riding. For Lee, there was always another adventure ahead.
Amer F. Ahmed, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Lee was a powerful mentor for me who always believed in my own abilities and potential. When we met at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, I didn't understand why she was so fond of me and was so supportive. I asked myself, "why does this guru even give me the time of day, who am I to get this attention and benefit from all her pearls of wisdom?" What I came to realize is that Lee understood my gifts and abilities far beyond what I understood myself to have at that time. Later, she invited me to contribute as a consultant to AAC&U's Core Commitments initiative, something she was deeply passionate about and invested in.
Despite the imposter syndrome I felt as a young professional contributing to this important initiative, she reassured me and made sure that I knew that I belonged. Over the years, I saw her less frequently but longed to see her.
I heard she was keynoting in Boston for a conference that was starting the next day a couple years ago; I almost went just to get a few minutes to say hello until I was unable to secure childcare. That's how much she meant to me. I would've gone wherever I could, just to get a few minutes of her purely joyful, loving and brilliant spirit.
2018 K. Patricia Cross Scholars
Lee was a key person who brought us together, so it's fitting for us to sign together. With all of us coming from different places and diverse disciplines, it's overwhelming to think about how we never would have met each other and connected if it wasn't for her generous and thoughtful leadership.
As new members of any society, it can be nerve wracking walking into a room of established scholars and professionals, especially as young academics and Trainees. But Lee's warm spirit and welcoming personality immediately soothed all anxieties as we quickly realized we weren't just ok, we were with family.
Upon meeting her for just a few seconds, her embrace was so genuine and full, it was clear that she had chosen our applications full-heartedly and making evident how much she truly valued Pat Cross' teachings. She led by example and completely embodied what a Pat Cross scholar is.
Lee was an incredible advocate for all of us. She truly made us feel valued and like our opinions mattered. Although we did not know her for long, she made a lasting impression on us all. We hope to pay forward all the kindness and confidence she instilled in us to all the students we may teach or mentor in the future.
I remember being so nervous before our session at the conference, but talking to Lee beforehand-- her belief in all of us and her excitement to discuss our ideas-- gave me confidence and made me feel like I belonged there. She had such a great warmth about her, and those interactions we shared with her at the conference will truly be cherished.
Our continued connection as Cross Scholars is a powerful testament to Lee's dedication and passion for education, and we look forward to continuing to honor her phenomenal legacy by empowering students.
Nancy O’Neill, University System of Maryland
I first knew people who knew Lee, particularly her spouse, Evi, when I was a graduate student at UMCP in the late 1990s. Then I met Lee when I went to work at AAC&U and then had the privilege of working closely with her for the Core Commitments initiative. We connected over this important work, but it was the off-schedule times that I will remember and miss the most. After many institutes, Lee, ever thoughtful, would grab me and we would travel into the nearest town to find gifts for the staff, especially the younger staff, who always poured their heart and soul into those gatherings. One summer, in Portland, we stayed an extra day to visit the Japanese Garden and alternated between stories and stillness. Before I knew her well, we met at the airport to travel to another AAC&U meeting. I confessed that I was heading to the newsstand to buy the latest copies of People and Us Weekly - my airplane indulgence. She reached into her briefcase and brought out copies of the same magazines - also her airplane indulgence! - and just like that, we bonded. I still can’t believe she’s gone. The world is colder without her, but much warmer and more beautiful for her having been here.
Jim Eck, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Brenau University
I first met Lee as part of the Core Commitments Initiative when I served at Rollins College. Rollins was a founding member of that effort, and we gathered at the University of Vermont to develop the Personal and Social Responsibility Inventory, and to discuss an ideal important to Lee: "taking seriously the perspective of others."
Lee also served as a consultant while I was provost at Louisburg College, and her faculty development session was one of the greatest moments in the academic life of that college. Lee was inspiring and unique in her ability to effectively collaborate with others, and her passion for faculty and learning inspires all of us who knew her.