Departure From USIU-Africa and Return to the Diaspora

In 2020, I notified the USIU-Africa Board of Trustees and University Council that I would be leaving at the end of my six year contract in 2021. I will be proceeding on a well-deserved leave later this month prior to my official exit at the end of this year. I will be assuming a new position at one of the leading research universities in the United States that I very much look forward to.

It has been a great privilege and honor working at USIU-Africa and living in Kenya, one of the continent’s most beautiful countries. During my six year tenure our University has continued to make progress amidst predictable and unforeseen challenges. We established new schools and expanded academic programs, improved teaching and learning by introducing more high impact pedagogical practices, strengthened research productivity, enhanced physical and electronic infrastructures, built extensive partnerships with the national and county governments, private sector, international and intergovernmental agencies, foreign embassies, community organizations, and philanthropic foundations.

Through some of these engagements and other development efforts we increased and diversified our revenue streams. Most significant is the partnership with the Mastercard Foundation that will provide $63.2 million for scholarships to 1000 students from underprivileged backgrounds across Africa for ten years, and millions more in a transformative multi-institutional e-Learning Initiative in which USIU-A will play a key role. Our students launched an innovative fundraising initiative called Educate Your Own that supports dozens of needy students. We also developed policies to promote equity, diversity and inclusion.

Among the biggest challenges the University has faced during my tenure were the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination reforms that led to sharp falls in eligible students for the country’s 74 universities, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic. Both led to unforeseen declines in student numbers, the main source of institutional revenues. However, we managed these challenges better than most universities. We transitioned almost seamlessly to remote teaching and learning using online platforms a day after the closure of the campus on March 17, 2020 because of massive IT investments and vigorous business continuity planning.

It has been an amazing journey in which I have learned a lot and sharpened my leadership skills. I am deeply indebted and wish to thank the exceptional management team and colleagues on other governance organs including the Board of Trustees, University Council, Senate, Faculty, Staff and Student Councils, and the Alumni Association. Above all, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our students. The current generation of African youth is the largest in African history, and potentially the most educated, skilled, and creative on whose weighty shoulders rest the long deferred dreams of Africa’s renaissance, the construction of integrated, inclusive, innovative and sustainable democratic developmental states and societies.

I look forward to returning to the diaspora where I have spent the bulk of my personal and professional life and some members of my immediate family live. The continent and diaspora are intricately intertwined, mutually constitutive, and each other’s keepers in our fiercely competitive, unequal and polarized world. I will continue to be a part of diaspora brain circulation, the premise of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, which is based on a research project I conducted for the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2011-2012. So in a large sense, I am simply shifting locations in the interwoven geography of Africa’s global brain circulation.

In due course, I will be sharing a series of reflections on my experiences leading an African university, as well as writing a book on the subject. It has been a privilege and an opportunity I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Adapted from Prof. Paul Zeleza's LinkedIn Post

You can also watch Prof. Zeleza's farewell message to the USIU-Africa community here:

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