At a ceremony on its North Portland campus Tuesday morning, the University of Portland announced the appointment of its 21st president, Robert Kelly.

Kelly is the private Catholic university’s first African American president and its first president who is not a priest from the university’s governing body, the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Robert Kelly will be UP's 21st president.

Robert Kelly will be UP's 21st president.

Chris Ho Photography / University of Portland

“I am humbled by this distinction,” Kelly said about being the university’s first lay president. “And I recognize the historic nature of my selection. I come to this position with great prayer and discernment, and I don’t take this responsibility lightly.”


According to UP, when announcing its presidential search last year, the university’s Board of Regents said it would conduct an open, national search in order to attract diverse candidates, including lay people.

“Our goal was to embark upon a thorough, patient, prayerful, transparent, and focused search that attracted a deeply qualified and diverse field of respondents,” UP Board of Regents Chair, Thomas Arndorfer, said in a statement. “We pursued with great passion and conviction the very best possible leader, and we are confident that we have found that person ­— a devout Catholic who will embrace and promote our Catholic identity and Holy Cross charism.”

Fr. William Lies, provincial superior of the U.S. Province of Holy Cross, expressed support for Kelly in a statement.

“From the very beginnings of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Basil Moreau, our founder, welcomed all to join us in our mission of education—a work of Resurrection as he called it. We are proud to welcome Dr. Kelly now as our first lay president, and commit to working closely with him for the continuing success of this wonderful institution,” Lies said.

Kelly comes from Loyola University in Baltimore, which like UP, is a Catholic university. He served there as vice president, along with holding other titles, and previously worked at public and private universities with and without religious affiliations, such as Seattle University, University of Vermont and Colgate University.

He is succeeding Mark Poorman who served as UP’s president for the past 10 years. Poorman last year returned to his former school, the University of Notre Dame.

Kelly will begin serving as UP’s president on July 1.


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