University of Portland Names Robert D. Kelly as Its First Black President

With Kelly, the Catholic university is stepping outside its historical comfort zone.

Since its founding in 1901, the University of Portland has always had as its president a priest from the Order of the Holy Cross. But the Catholic university in North Portland pledged to cast a wider net in 2020 when its then-president, the Rev. Mark Poorman, retired.

Today, UP announced it had followed through with its pledge, hiring Robert D. Kelly, a vice president at Loyola University Maryland, as its first Black and non-ordained president. (Kelly is Catholic, however.) Kelly, who has a Ph.D. in education, previously worked at Union College, Loyola University Chicago and Seattle University.

“I walk in the footsteps of so many wonderful Holy Cross priests and brothers who have preceded me in their service on the Bluff,” Kelly said in a statement. “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.”