Born in Syracuse, New York, in 1927, Dr. David C. Knapp received his B.A. from Syracuse University in 1947. He entered the University of Chicago; earning his M.A. in 1948 and his PhD in 1953. He joined the faculty of the University of New Hampshire in 1953 as an assistant professor of government. From 1955 to 1961, he assumed the duties of assistant to the president in addition to that of associate professor. Dr. Knapp served as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for 1961-1962.
In 1963, Dr. Knapp became associate director of the Study of American Colleges of Agriculture. The study was financed by the Carnegie Corporation, and was centered at the University of Maryland. While still working on the study, Dr. Knapp became director of the Institute of College & University Administrators of the American Council on Education. He left both posts in 1968 to accept an appointment as dean of the New York State College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, a position he held until being appointed provost in 1974.
Dr. Knapp was elected president of the University of Massachusetts by the Board of Trustees in 1978.