University of Portland Picks Black President

Historic selection marks two firsts

In a history-making announcement, the University of Portland has appointed Dr. Robert Kelly as its 21st president, the first lay president and the first African American to lead  the Catholic university in its over 121 years of existence.

Kelly most recently served as vice president, special assistant and clinical professor at Loyola University in Baltimore, Md. He was introduced to the University of Portland community Tuesday on the school’s north Portland campus.


Throughout its existence, UP has been led by a Holy Cross priest from its governing body, the Congregation of Holy Cross. But when announcing its search for a new president in August, the university’s Board of Regents committed to an open, national search with the goal of attracting a diverse field of qualified candidates including lay people outside of the Congregation of Holy Cross.


Kelly was described as a devout Catholic who will embrace and promote the school’s Catholic identity. In prepared remarks, he expressed being humbled by the historic nature of his selection.


“I come to this position after much discernment and prayer, and I do not take this responsibility lightly. I walk in the footsteps of so many wonderful Holy Cross priests and brothers who have preceded me in their service on The Bluff. And I pledge to the Congregation, and to all who call UP home, my commitment to ensuring that our Catholic, Holy Cross mission endures and thrives,” he said.


Kelly brings an extensive academic pedigree and accomplished career in higher education. He holds a PhD in philosophy, education policy, planning and administration from the University of Maryland; a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs administration from the University of Vermont; and a bachelor’s degree in arts and political science from Loyola University Maryland.


The Pacific Northwest is already familiar territory for Kelly after having served as vice president for student development and adjunct professor of education at Seattle University. His resume also includes chief of staff to the president of Union College; associate dean of students, and assistant to the vice president for student affairs at the University of Vermont; and assistant director of residential life at Colgate University.


Kelly succeeds Rev. Mark L. Poorman, who served for 10 years at UP—seven as its 20th president. Poorman has returned to teaching, research, and pastoral duties at the University of Notre Dame.