Knox College (Illinois)

Knox College is a private liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois. It is one of 40 schools featured in Loren Pope's influential book Colleges That Change Lives.

Knox College
MottoLatin: Veritas
Motto in English
EstablishedFebruary 15, 1837
EndowmentUS$ 127 million (31 March 2015)[1]
PresidentTeresa Amott
Academic staff
Location, ,
CampusSmall city
ColorsPurple and gold
Athletics21 varsity teams
NCAA Division III
Midwest Conference
MascotPrairie Fire (nickname), Blaze (mascot)


Knox College was founded as Knox Manual Labor College in 1837 by a group of Presbyterians and Congregationalists organized by George Washington Gale. Gale was Galesburg and Knox's "founding father".[2] He believed in the manual labor system of education, and had previously implemented it at America's first such college, the abolitionist but short-lived Oneida Institute, near Utica, New York.

Many of the founders, including the Rev. Samuel Wright, actively supported the Underground Railroad.

Knox has been known by its present name since 1857. The name came about through a compromise among its founders. Though founded by a colony of Presbyterians and Congregationalists, the county in which the college is located was already named Knox County, after Henry Knox, the first United States Secretary of War. Arguments have been made that the college was named for Calvinist leader John Knox, but it is not certain for which Knox it was named (if not both). George Candee Gale, a great-great-grandson of two of the founders, explains that

contrary to general belief, Knox was not named for either General Knox or the Scottish Presbyterian Knox, according to my father ...Some wanted the college named for one Knox, some for the other; so they compromised on KNOX. Certainly most of them were pious enough to want the churchman and fighters enough to want the soldier as well."[3]

The presidency of Jonathan Blanchard led the school out of debt, but ignited a controversy about whether the school was loyal to the Congregational church or the Presbyterians. Both Gale and Blanchard were forced out of the school as a result.[4] Knox was the site of the fifth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. The Old Main building is the only site from the debates that stands today. Two years after the debates, and during his presidential campaign, Lincoln was awarded the first honorary doctorate ever conferred by Knox College—a Doctor of Laws degree, announced at the commencement exercises of 5 July 1860.[5]



Knox College was ranked 71st among liberal arts colleges by the 2011 edition of America's Best Colleges in U.S. News & World Report.[6] In August 2010, Knox was listed as one of the "Best-Kept Secrets: 10 Colleges You Should Know About" by the Huffington Post, based on a Unigo survey completed by over 30,000 students.[7] In the August 11, 2010 issue of Forbes magazine, Knox was ranked among the Top 100 liberal arts colleges listed[8] and over 600 evaluated;[9] In the 2009 rankings, Knox was 101st of 600 listed.[10]

The Princeton Review consistently cites Knox on its "Best of" lists, most recently in 2010 as one of the Best 371 Schools,[11] and one of the Best Midwestern Colleges.[12] The Kiplinger private colleges rankings for 2010 placed Knox 47th on its list of 50 best values in liberal arts,[13] measuring academic quality and affordability. And in 2010 Washington Monthly named Knox among the Top 50 best liberal arts colleges,[14] calling their list "a guide not just to what colleges can do for you, but what colleges are doing for the country."[14] Knox College is also one of 40 schools featured in the book Colleges That Change Lives by former New York Times Education Editor Loren Pope. In the 2009–2010 academic year, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted Knox as one of nine bachelor-level institutions to produce two or more Fulbright Awards for U.S. Scholars.[15] In 2009, a Knox study of itself found that the college ranks in the top 3% of colleges based upon graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D.[16]

Academic program

Knox employs a 3–3 academic calendar rather than a traditional semester-based approach. In each of the three 10-week terms, students take only three courses. Faculty members teach only two courses each term, giving them more time for one-on-one mentoring.[17]

All courses of study at Knox contain common elements, including an educational plan that students design.[18]

Knox College introduced the school's honor code in 1951.[19] All students are held responsible for the integrity of their own work, and students are required to abide by the code. Because of this policy, tests are not proctored, and in many cases students may take their exams in any open, public place within the same building. Any cases of students caught disobeying the system are evaluated by their peers through the Honor Board, a committee consisting of three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and three faculty members.

With the implementation of Renewed Knox, the 2003 curriculum overhaul, the school expanded its academic offerings to meet the needs of a liberal arts education in the 21st century. In 2003, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the school a $1 million grant to create a new major in neuroscience; in 2005, the college signed agreements with The George Washington University to create an early admission program into the university's medical school,[20] and with the University of Rochester to create a direct admissions program into the university's Simon School of Business's MBA program;[21] in 2007 the Peace Corps launched a new program at Knox, establishing the Peace Corps Preparatory Program, the first of its kind in the country;[22] Chinese language instruction, Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, and Film Studies were all added;[23] and new abroad studies programs have been created: the Japan Term,[24] and Knox in New York.[25]

Knox is also known for its Green Oaks term, an interdisciplinary program at the 700-acre (2.8 km2; 1.1 sq mi) Green Oaks Biological Field Station, during which students and faculty spend an entire term conducting research and creative projects and participating in courses in biology, anthropology-sociology, and English, as well as workshops in outdoor skills, first aid, and photography.[26] The Green Field Station began in 1955 under the guidance of zoologist Paul Shepard and George Ward.[27]

Knox also promotes top-notch undergraduate research, annually awarding students more than $250,000 in grants to support research and creative projects. Among the programs are the Ford Foundation Research Fellows Program, which funds the scientific, scholarly, and creative projects of 20 students each year, and the summer research program at Knox's Lincoln Studies Center. More than 10 percent of Knox students receive support for independent research and study from the Richter Memorial Foundation Program and the Pew Research Fellowships, which offers Knox students support for off-campus research in science and mathematics. In addition, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund supports student research in ecology and environmental studies and the AAAS/Merck Grant funds interdisciplinary scientific research.[28]

Knox has many distinctive academic programs. The Honors Program is a year-long, in-depth independent research program in which one in seven seniors participates. It culminates in a major thesis or creative portfolio that is presented to and defended before an honors committee that includes Knox faculty and a specialist from outside the college.[29] In 2007, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Knox a $228,750 grant to create a new Center for Research and Advanced Studies, which "will coordinate Knox's numerous existing programs that support advanced work in the natural and social sciences, humanities, and creative and performing arts."[30] Knox provides a number of combined programs (3 years at Knox, 2–3 years at partnering institutions) to offer a few specialized degrees outside of the core liberal arts disciplines. These include engineering (Columbia University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Washington University in St. Louis), environmental management (Duke University), forestry (Duke University), occupational therapy (Washington University in St. Louis), and law (University of Chicago, Columbia University).

Almost 50 percent of Knox students take advantage of the opportunities for off-campus learning, studying theatre in London, history in Barcelona, French immersion in Besançon, mathematics in Hungary, social development in Tanzania, language and culture in Japan, political science in Washington, D.C., and a host of other subjects in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States[31]


The Knox College faculty is made up of 120 professors, 97 percent of whom hold a Ph.D. or equivalent degree. The student-faculty ratio is 12:1, while the average class size is 17. Prominent faculty members include noted author Robert Hellenga, expert on the relationship between values and well-being Tim Kasser, Middle East expert Robert Seibert, Latin American Expert Karen Kampwirth, Evolutionary Psychologist Frank McAndrew, noted expert on 20th-century American art and director of The National Center for Midwest Art and Design Gregory Gilbert, former Supreme Court Fellow Lane Sunderland, fiction writer Chad Simpson (author) and co-chairs of the Knox-based Lincoln Studies Center: Rodney Davis and Douglas L. Wilson. In the 2009–2010 academic year, The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Knox as one of the top producers of Fulbright scholar Awards for U.S. Scholars: with two recipients, Knox tied for second among bachelor's degree level institutions.[15][32]

Lincoln Studies Center

The Lincoln Studies Center was established in 1998 by Rodney Davis and Douglas L. Wilson, who serve as joint co-chairs. The center deals with issues relating to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln by fostering new research, publishing monographs, hosting annual lectures and occasional symposia. Students are often employed as assistants in the various projects conducted at the center. In August 2009, Knox was awarded an $850,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities "We the People" initiative, "a grant that will provide the base of a permanent endowment for the Center."[33]


According to The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Knox is considered to be a more selective institution, with a lower rate of transfer-in students.[34] For the school year commencing in 2011, more than 3,200 students applied, 1,600 were admitted and 460 chose to enroll.[35] Of the class commencing in September 2011, 43 percent of students were in the top tenth of their class, 79 percent in the top quarter. The ACT composite Mid-50 percent Range was 26–30, the SAT Mid-50 percent Range 1190–1380.[32]

Student body

1,420 students were enrolled at Knox in September 2011. These students come from 48 states and territories and 51 countries. Twenty-five percent of U.S. students are of color (7 percent African American, 9 percent Asian American or Pacific Islander, 9 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native American), and 9 percent are international students. Women make up 57 percent of the student body, men 43 percent.[32]

Financial aid

Knox says it is "committed to ensuring cost is not a barrier to [an] education." Over the past seven years, the annual increase in the comprehensive fee has ranged from 3.3 to 5.9%.[36] A variety of merit-based scholarships (up to full tuition) and need-based financial aid packages are offered. As recently as 2012, both the Kiplinger's Personal Finance and U.S. News & World Report, named Knox a "Best Value" liberal arts college.[37]

The comprehensive cost (tuition, room, board and fees) of an academic year at Knox was $47,352 in 2013–2014.[36] U.S. citizens are eligible for a wide array of need- and merit-based scholarships, as well as various federal and private loan programs.[38] There are numerous avenues for on-campus employment during the academic year. Knox College offers scholarships to qualified international students who wish to take full advantage of what the American liberal arts mode of education has to offer.[39] International students are also eligible for on-campus jobs.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the median federal debt of Knox College graduates who received student loans was $27,000. In addition, only 53% of students who attended Knox earned, on average, more than those with only a high school diploma.[40]

Student life

Greek organizations

Knox College is home to nine Greek-letter organizations, the oldest of which has been on campus since 1855. Providing a network of alumni to enhance job and life connections, fraternity (men's) and sorority (women's) chapters provide Knox students with living, organizational and learning opportunities. Through their respective inter-Greek governance organizations, chapters conduct a formal recruitment process during each winter term to ensure first-year students have a chance to adjust to college life and classes before joining. Most offer residential housing for members. Some chapters formerly present have closed; of these, alumni members are often still active with the college's alumni association, and recolonization of dormant chapters remains an opportunity for potential new founders.


These organizations are governed by Knox's Panhellenic Council.


These organizations are governed by Knox's Interfraternity Council .

Club activities

  • Book Club
  • Knox College Business Club
  • Chemistry Club
  • Classics Club
  • Educational Studies Club
  • Equestrian Team
  • French Club
  • German Club
  • Friends of Green Oaks
  • Neuroscience Club
  • Physics Club
  • Pre-Law Club
  • Pre-Health Club
  • Quiz Bowl


Pumphandle is an annual tradition dating back to 1885 during which new members of the community are welcomed to Knox. On the afternoon before the start of the academic year, all members of the Knox community gather on the south lawn outside Old Main. The President of the college "leads the welcoming line, shaking each person's hand in turn. Everyone shakes the hands of those who have gone before, and the line grows, snaking around the campus."[41]

Flunk Day is an annual spring carnival that allows students, staff, and faculty to mingle and have fun. Classes are canceled for the day as the student body turns its attention to a joke issue of the student newspaper, live music, inflatable bounce rooms, petting zoos, a mud pit, a paint fight, and a seniors vs faculty softball game. The date of Flunk Day changes every year and is a secret until the entire student body is woken up at around 5am the day of.[41] Flunk Day is of particular significance due to the fact that Knox College does not close for reasons other than Winter Break and Spring Break. This one day, Flunk Day, is a time that students, staff, and faculty can all come together.

Student media

  • The Knox Student — a weekly student newspaper
  • Catch — a prize-winning literary magazine
  • Cellar Door — a literary magazine
  • The Common Room — online journal of literary criticism
  • Quiver — a literary magazine of genre fiction
  • Folio — a visual arts magazine

The Knox Student has won numerous awards as one of the best college newspapers in the state of the Illinois, including numerous first place category awards and general excellence awards from the Illinois College Press Association.[42]

Knox's radio station is WVKC. It is located on the fourth floor of George Davis Hall, a former science building that now houses the social science and language departments. Its frequency in Galesburg is 90.7. It is ranked #7 in the nation for "great college radio station" by the Princeton Review in their 2011 Best 368 Colleges rankings.[43]


The current Knox College mascot is the Prairie Fire, a name it adopted in 1993 due to controversy surrounding the former mascot, the Old Siwash. The word Siwash is rooted in the language of the Chinook Indians of the Pacific Coast of Canada. It was a derogatory term used by European traders to refer to the local people.[44] The term Old Siwash was popularized by George Helgesen Fitch[45] (Knox Class of 1897) in his book At Good Old Siwash, and was soon adopted as the school's mascot. However, in 1992 a college publication urged the school to reconsider the name given its pejorative and derogatory implications.[46] The Prairie Fire refers to the annual spring burning of the prairie lands at Green Oaks. First conducted in the 1950s by Knox professor Paul Shepard, the burn protects prairie grasses from intrusions of woodland scrub and competition with "exotic" species that have been introduced to Illinois from other regions or countries—to the detriment of organisms that have evolved over millions of years in delicate balance with the environment and each other.[47]

Knox is a member of the Midwest Conference of the NCAA at the Division III level. The school offers 21 men's and women's varsity sports, as well as 11 club sports in such things as water polo, fencing, and ultimate frisbee. Recent athletic highlights would include the 2016, 2017, & 2018 Conference Champion women's soccer teams that participated in the NCAA Division III National Tournament and the 2018 men's soccer team that did the same. For individual athletes, the outstanding 2016 season of All-American baseball player Drake Sykes, two-time All-American wrestler Jaran Rutledge who placed in the NCAA Division III National Tournament in 2007(3rd) and 2008(8th), and the 2019 sixth-place finish at the NCAA Division III Indoor track national championships of All-American high-jumper Austin Rauch should also be noted.

Knox College is part of the sixth-longest college football rivalry in the United States with Monmouth College. The Bronze Turkey trophy, awarded annually to the victor of the football game, was created in 1928 and is the brainchild of Knox football alumnus Bill Collins.[48] The Bronze Turkey was named the fifth "most bizarre college football rivalry trophy" by ESPN.[49]


Knox College has 45 academic and residential buildings on its 82-acre (330,000 m2) campus.[32] Knox boasts electron microscopes, a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, a Celestron telescope, access to the Inter University Consortium for Political & Social Research, the Strong Collection of 18th and 19th century maps and photographs, the Hughes Collection of manuscripts and first editions from Hemingway and his "Lost Generation" contemporaries, and a 700-acre (2.8 km2) natural prairie reserve, the Green Oaks Field Station.[50] In 2006, the new E. & L. Andrew Fitness Center was dedicated. The 13,000-square-foot (1,200 m2), $2.4-million facility features state-of-the-art equipment, and is significantly larger than the former fitness center, Memorial Gymnasium.[51]

The centerpiece of the Knox campus is Old Main. Old Main is "the oldest building on its campus, and is the best preserved site of one of the 1858 senatorial debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas." A National Historic Landmark and part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1928, the Seymour Library was ranked 3rd "Best Library" in the nation by the Princeton Review in 2001. Inside its leaded glass windows and oak paneled reading rooms, the library houses 350,000 books and subscribes to more than 14,000 periodicals.[32] Its special collections include the Finley Collection of Midwest History, the Strong Collection of 18th- and 19th-century maps and photographs, the Hughes Collection of manuscripts and first editions from Faulkner, Hemingway and his "Lost Generation" contemporaries, and an original Diderot Encyclopédie.[52]

Famous professor and newspaperman Christopher Morley delivered a three-week-long series of lectures on "Literature as Companionship" at Knox in March and April 1938. In one of these lectures, entitled "Lonely Fun", he describes the Standish Alcove in the library as modeled after a "gentleman's library," and praised the opportunities the library offered for solitary leisure. In addition, Knox offers the Kresge Science & Math Library, which houses the scientific and technical collections of the college,[53] and the Center for the Fine Arts Music Library (CFA), which has collections of compact discs, vinyl record albums, printed music scores, and a core reference collection.[54]

Four public computer laboratories are accessible to students, with several more departmental labs available and a dedicated language laboratory. The largest, Founders Laboratory, is located in Seymour Hall (the student union), and is open 24 hours a day throughout the school year. Scanning (including film-scanning and optical character recognition) is available freely to student users, and printing and copy services are available for a fee.[55] In a move to become more environmentally friendly beginning fall of 2005 recycled-content paper was phased in for use in all college printers, addressing the issues of paper waste.

In 2002, a major curriculum revision entitled "Renewed Knox" was launched. With this revision came the creation of six new academic centers: The Center for Research and Advanced Studies, The Center for Global Studies, The Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development, The Center for Community Service, The Center for Teaching and Learning, and The Center for Intercultural Life.[56]

Students established the Knox College Community Garden in 2007 as an independent study project.[57] It continues to be tended by student volunteers, and produces a variety of annual and perennial vegetables and flowers.[58]

Recent commencement speakers

Recently, Knox has had several well-known commencement speakers, including Barack Obama (2005), Stephen Colbert (2006), Bill Clinton (2007), Madeleine Albright (2008), Patrick J. Fitzgerald[59] (2009), Christina Tchen[60] (2010), Majora Carter (2011), Ed Helms[61] (2013), Eva Longoria (2017) and Vir Das (2018).


Knox College has over 15,000 living alumni on all seven continents. The alumni giving rate was equal to 36.4% (the highest rate among liberal arts colleges in Illinois) in the 2008–2009 giving year, with more than 5,500 individuals contributing to the college.[62] According to the 2009 Institutional Self-Study, Knox prepares its graduates well for life after graduation. 80 percent of those wishing to attend medical school were accepted (the national average was 50 percent), while 90 percent of students who worked with the pre-law advisor were admitted to one or more law schools.[63] Knox is also in the top 3 percent of schools whose graduates attain a Ph.D.[16] In the decade ending in 2009, 15 Knox alumni have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship for foreign study.[63]

Notable alumni


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