Submission: Welcome from President Dr. Robert Kelly

Building a transformative university, together

By Robert Kelly | August 29, 2022 10:00am

Dr. Robert Kelly, president of the University of Portland, cheers in front of Shipstad as a confetti cannon is fired. Move-in day for students in dorms was Thursday, August 25.

Media Credit: Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

What a joy it is to have students back on campus!

I began my service as UP’s 21st President on July 1. In the two months that have followed, I’ve been busy working alongside staff and faculty to prepare for the academic year ahead and chart a path forward for UP.

While my time on The Bluff has been wonderful, something has been missing—all of you, the students of UP. You bring so much brilliance, enthusiasm, inspiration, humor, and joy to the University. Those of us who are staff and faculty members see students as our raison d’être—our reason for being here at UP. Campus just isn’t the same without you, and we’re truly blessed to have you back.

Throughout the academic year ahead, you’ll often hear me talk about making UP the premier transformative Catholic university of the West. Transformation is already something we do well at UP. Helping students to grow academically, spiritually, and personally has been a part of our DNA since our founding in 1901. Our Catholic, Holy Cross identity calls upon us to educate the hands, hearts, and minds of our students, and to prepare them for lives of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

I’m convinced, though, that there is still more that we can do to become a truly transformative institution. I’m also convinced that, once word gets out about our transformative impact, more and more students and families will want to join us on The Bluff.

Becoming the premier transformative Catholic university in the West will take the best efforts of each and every Pilot. Of course, as President, I play a singular, leading role in this endeavor. But it’s important to view this as our shared responsibility.

There are many things, both big and small, that we can do to amplify UP’s transformative impact. They all add up as we strive to effect positive change for our UP family, our community, our nation, and our world. Presented here are five things that I hope our students will do during the academic year ahead to help us on this journey.

  1. Support Your Fellow Students: UP students are smart, talented, creative, and engaged in a multitude of different academic and extracurricular activities. I hope you will support them! Show up for a hallmate’s music recital. Attend an acquaintance’s research presentation. Cheer on our student-athletes. And importantly, if you see a fellow student who is struggling, be there for them and connect them to resources who can assist.

  2. Connect with a Faculty or Staff Mentor: The folks who work and serve on The Bluff are dedicated to your success and are some of the most brilliant, committed, and kind people you will ever meet. I hope you will connect with them! Visit your professors’ office hours. Collaborate with a staff member on a project. Reach out to the Holy Cross priests and brothers on campus, who are here to support you and walk with you.

  3. Anchor Yourself in Portland: We’re blessed to live in a vibrant, dynamic city in a beautiful part of the world. I hope you will anchor yourself in our hometown! There are so many ways to get involved—the Moreau Center for Service & Justice, experiential learning, Outdoor Pursuits, the list goes on. Anchoring yourself in Portland can even be as simple as getting a group of friends together for a hike in Forest Park, an excursion to get donuts, or dinner in one of our city’s neighborhoods. Immerse yourself in Portland and do what you can to make our community thrive. (While you’re out and about, be sure to wear some UP gear!)

  4. Lean Into Hard Conversations: During the academic year ahead, you’ll be presented with many opportunities to have hard conversations. I hope you will lean into those opportunities! As an academic institution rooted in the liberal arts, we’re called to view frank, respectful dialogue as the best tool at our disposal for attaining greater understanding. Don’t get me wrong. This is difficult work, and we don’t see many positive examples of frank, respectful dialogue in society writ large. Nevertheless, approaching difficult topics in good faith and with a desire to truly listen to others is a critical skill.

  5. See Yourself in the Mission: Finally, know that we create this University. I hope you will find a way to see yourself in our mission. Recognize the wonderful contributions that you make to The Bluff, and how our community wouldn’t be the same without you. Understand that you are a citizen of UP, and you play a role in creating our community of care. When you see us falling short of our values, speak up. And when given the chance to tell others about what makes UP such a distinctive place, I hope you will take it.

If we support one another, connect with a faculty or staff mentor, anchor ourselves in Portland, lean into hard conversations, and see ourselves in the mission, we’ll be well on our way to strengthening our status as a truly transformative institution. Indeed, if we do these things, we’ll create a vibrant community in which all people are truly seen and heard, and we’ll achieve our goal of having a positive, transformational impact on The Bluff and around the world.

Welcome back, students, and I wish you the best during the year ahead.

Robert D. Kelly, PhD, is President of the University of Portland. You may contact him at and follow him on Instagram at @UPortlandPresident.