At the age of twenty-two, Victor Ukpolo went to the United States to study, and forty-nine years later, he had become something of an icon in the annals of America’s educational system. A former Chancellor of the Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO), Ukpolo’s contributions to the rehabilitation of the university following its devastation by Hurricane Katrina are well-documented. He is celebrated all over New Orleans and many other parts of the US for his role in the development of education in the country. Ukpolo’s story is that of an immigrant come good.
Birth and Education
Victor Ukpolo was born on 23 March 1950 in Lagos to Samuel Obuje and Gladys University. Not much is known about his life in Nigeria. In 1972, he immigrated to the US to begin his undergraduate studies in Economics at the University of Maryland, graduating in 1975. He then went on to complete a Master of Arts degree in Economics at the American University in 1977, and in 1985, he bagged a PhD in Economics from American University, Washington. To finance his education, he worked in a Chinese restaurant washing dishes, in an office building in Washington DC as a security guard, and drove taxicabs in the District of Columbia. His efforts, work, and struggles in the US climaxed in his appointment as a chancellor at SUNO. He is thought to be the first native-born Nigerian to head a university in the United States.
Ukpolo started his professional career at Austin Peay State University, Tennessee as an Assistant Professor, where he taught Economics. He served the institution meritoriously, and within ten years rose through the ranks to become a Professor. An interesting aspect of Ukpolo’s career was the versatility he possessed in combining administrative responsibilities with his lectureship. This could be gleaned from the promotion he got to serve as the Executive Assistant to the President of the university’s central administration. After his sterling performance, he was appointed as the Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs/Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Research for the Tennessee Board of Regents, and later proceeded to California State University, Los Angeles as Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs. In 2003, he became the Vice President for academic and student affairs at the Southern University System where he served for three years before his appointment as the Vice Chancellor of SUNO in 2006.
He is famous for his role in the rebuilding of the Southern University of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Through his efforts, money and grants were received from both government and the Southern University System board to re-build most parts of the metropolitan campus that was damaged in the disaster. He raised about $44 million for students housing and $32 million for classrooms building. Ukpolo’s rebuilding efforts continued till 2012, recovering many parts of the campus building that had been rendered unusable by Katrina.
An economist, Ukpolo serves on the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Committee on Economic and Workforce Development. He frequently features in the news for his roles in the re-development of the campus. His interpersonal charm makes him an agreeable person to work with, regardless of racial or social background. This probably explains part of why he was such a success at SUNO. At some point during the rebuilding work, he led a delegation of prominent local, state, and federal officials on a tour of the campus.
On 19 March 2009, a newspaper editorial praised Ukpolo for his efforts in securing funding for the rebuilding of the SUNO campus. The newspaper, The Times-Picayune, also highlighted the Nigerian’s role in saving the jobs of about 50 employees of the university who would otherwise have lost their jobs, had funding for rebuilding and commencement of full academic activities not been obtained. Significantly too, Ukpolo had, in the midst of the crisis that engulfed the university, managed to stave off attempts by the Southern University System to merge SUNO with the neighbouring University of New Orleans. In fact, he was commended by Tony Clayton, the then chair of the Board of Supervisors for the Southern University System, for being able to make the right decisions amid tough and challenging circumstances. He further described him as someone that he could be counted on to do “the right thing for SUNO”. On 15 March 2016, Ukpolo resigned as the Chancellor of the Southern University of New Orleans, ending a ten-year-term that started in 2006.
Personal Life and Interests
When he is not busy with work, Victor loves playing tennis and running. He was married to Pamela Davies on 19 June 1977, a marriage that ended in divorce. He later married Dr. Fawn Teresa Coffey on 30 December 1989. Together they had two children, Mercy, and Oghenekewe, plus a son, Victor from his first marriage.
In 2012 the Carnegie Corporation selected Ukpolo as one of forty-five naturalized citizens of the United States for Carnegie’s Americans by Choice Award. He has been on the board of directors of the United Methodist Urban Ministry, Clarksville since 1991 and had been a member of the Rotary Club between 1992 and 1993. He was also at different times a member of the Phi Kappa Phi and Omicron Delta Kappa fraternities in the US.
“Victor Ukpolo.” Wikipedia. https://prabook.com/web/victor.ukpolo/587377. Accessed 14 July 2019.