In memoriam: Phil McKnight, School of Modern Languages Chair

Phil McKnight, professor and chair of the School of Modern Languages in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, died unexpectedly of unknown cause during the Labor Day holiday. He was 69.

Joining Georgia Tech as chair in August 2001, McKnight transformed the Institute’s 107-year old modern languages curricula into one of the nation’s premier programs. Today, 21 percent of Tech students are enrolled in applied language and intercultural studies, compared to an 8 percent national average.

McKnight was a forceful advocate for modern language studies framed in the many contexts in which other languages are spoken and he emphasized the critical competitive edge they provide to 21st century students entering the global workforce. He expanded the school’s language curricula from six to nine languages, including Arabic and Farsi. He oversaw the growth of the joint major in International Affairs and Modern Languages and helped established both the joint degree in Global Economics and Modern Languages and a bachelor’s degee in Applied Languages and International Studies (ALIS).

The connections McKnight forged throughout the College and Institute resulted in the creation of key programs. He fostered continued growth of the school’s signature Languages for Business and Technology (LBAT) faculty-led summer study abroad programs and formed partnerships with Tech’s ROTC programs, supporting the military’s emphasis on foreign language competency.

“Phil’s vision and tireless work have been an inspiration to us all,” said Modern Languages Professor Bettina Cothran. “Above all, however, Phil has been a human being of greatest integrity, wisdom, with a generosity of heart that encompassed his entire ‘family’ at Modern Languages. His untimely and unexpected passing leaves us with a profound sense of loss, but also a call to continue to build the School of Modern Languages into a place which creates opportunities for students, faculty and staff to reach their highest aspirations.”

McKnight’s research interests included East German writers, contemporary literary representations of history, late 18th century literature, and applied language learning in the context of the global economy.

He is survived by his wife Ulrike Hahn-McKnight and two daughters, Anna and Ursula.

Plans for services will be announced as they are available.