Dr. Douglas D. “Doug” Knowlton, Associate Provost for Student Success at Metropolitan State University, died July 5. He was 67 and a resident of St. Paul.
Knowlton came to Metro State in July 2013. He had been serving as Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, but missed day-to-day interactions with students. He jumped at the opportunity to work on a campus again.
He brought with him a wealth of university leadership experience. Knowlton was a former president of Dakota State University, and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of University of Minnesota, Crookston. “He was well-respected across the system,” said Greg Mellas, director of Metro State’s Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship (ICES).
A seasoned leader
Knowlton made an impression on campus with his friendly and personable manner. Colleagues valued Knowlton’s experience, wisdom and the work he had done at other institutions. He had a knack for keeping meetings productive and on schedule, Mellas said.
As associate provost, Knowlton oversaw the departments that support student success. He worked with advisors, the Center for Accessibility Resources, the Dean of Students, Healthcare and Wellness Services and the Student Parent Center.
A relationship builder
Earlier this year, Knowlton was part of a nine-person search committee to hire a new chief advancement officer. When Rita Dibble was selected, Knowlton arranged a coffee meeting for her and the search committee. This gathering gave Dibble a chance to reconnect with people she met during the screening process. It was a “warm way to welcome her to campus,” said Greg Mellas, ICES Director.
Before College of Sciences Dean Tom Nelson died last year, Knowlton wanted Nelson to know that everyone at Metro State was thinking of him. He gathered colleagues to put together a gift bag with cards and notes. “Doug would think of it and suggest those types of things,” said Mellas.
Knowlton understood the importance of relationships. “He would make people feel valued outside their contributions as employees,” said Mellas. Knowlton often took time to chat with coworkers just to see how they were doing. “People loved that,” Mellas said. “They admired Doug because of that.”
Mellas also described Knowlton, a trained clinical psychologist, as being “deeply concerned with how people feel.” Colleagues considered Knowlton a calm presence and a counselor at heart. “People will remember Doug for how he made people feel,” Mellas said.
President Ginny Arthur recalled a story that “epitomizes Doug’s characteristics — kindness, generosity and compassion.”
On a summer morning in June, a man was sitting in the reception area next to the offices in Great Hall. He was crying. “He was a little bit confused, lost, did not realize that this was a university, but thought this was a place that could help him,” Arthur said.
Knowlton noticed the man and stopped to talk with him. During their conversation, Knowlton found out that the man was homeless and needed assistance. He walked him up the street to First Lutheran Church, which provides services to the homeless. Knowlton also gave him a bus pass so he would have the transportation he needed.
“A willingness to take time out of his day to make sure that someone was cared for. A lot of people would tell stories about that, about Doug,” Arthur said.
An advocate for students
Knowlton often assisted students with their academic and personal issues. He was empathetic to hard-working students and the challenges they faced.
“Doug clearly cared very much about students,” said Arthur. “That is why he decided he wanted to come to a campus. He was very compassionate. In dealing with students, he was always understanding. He responded to students promptly. He helped lead them through the process. He really mentored students that he came into contact with.”
She said students would seek out Knowlton as a mentor even after their problems were resolved.
In addition to his associate provost duties, Knowlton volunteered to tutor students in the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE). Dr. Jules Thompson, CAE Director, noticed Knowlton’s aptitude for helping students with their coursework. He was “so talented at setting his students at ease,” she said.
“He was so accepting, really encouraged people’s creativity and problem-solving skills,” Thompson said. “He was about empowering students to do their best work.”
Professor Suzanne Nielsen, Communication, Writing and the Arts Department and tutor coordinator noted Knowlton’s “unassuming” nature when meeting students. “He had a very casual demeanor with students, which made them very comfortable,” she said.
A lasting impact
Knowlton taught PSYC 300 Abnormal Psychology on Wednesday evenings during summer semester. His students are grieving from the sudden loss, Nielsen said. “Students loved him.”
Thompson credits Knowlton for building community at Metro State by making everyone feel welcome and encouraged. “He really understood the significant role that student support services can play in a student’s life and in a student’s experience in higher education,” she said.
“I was trained as a wordsmith,” said Thompson. “I’m a trained rhetoric scholar and words fail me in this situation because the loss is so devastating.”
Knowlton is survived by his wife, two sons, two grandchildren and a brother.
Memorials may be made to the Metropolitan State University Foundation, Attn: Doug Knowlton Memorial Gift; Dakota State University Foundation, Attn: Dr. Douglas and Sharon Knowlton Endowment; or Central Presbyterian Church.