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UCU Vice Chancellor prepares to step down

American missionary academician going into real estate.

The Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University, Professor Stephen Noll, 63, will retire at the end of his second term on August 31, 2010. Following the announcement made on October 8, a search for a successor has started. Many advertisements have been placed in newspapers.

When Rev. Prof. Noll and his wife Peggy first set foot in Uganda in June 1999, they did not think they would stay long. Professor Noll recalls: “The first night we spent in Kampala in Nakasero, we heard automatic gunfire. I think they were pursuing a thief or something and my wife told me that she doubted if we would be able to live here. But then we went out to Mukono and it was all hilly and peaceful and we changed our minds.”
Noll says: “When I first came to the campus of Uganda Christian University, I remember walking around and thinking this is like paradise. All it needs is someone to tend it and keep it.”

For ten years as the first appointed Vice Chancellor of UCU (as it is popularly known), Noll has been doing just that: overseeing UCU grow from a few hundred students to the 7,000 it has today.

His tenure has not been without its share of controversy, though. Several times there have been demonstrations from UCU students over the continuously rising tuition fees. Prof. Noll acknowledges this, saying: “There are some students who think we are pricey and too expensive. Every year has seen fees go up. Some even refer to us as Uganda Commercial University!”  But Noll stands firm on his administration’s policy.

“I’m sorry they think we are money grabbing but I do believe that you get what you pay for. Like if you want lecturers with doctoral degrees, laboratory facilities; it’s all expensive. But we have tried to be accountable in all our expenses. We try to do small things like all students getting their certificates and transcripts the day they graduate,” he explains.

“I have spent more time on issues of finances and budgets. We have tried to be good stewards of our resources. We have tried to use that money well to build quality facilities and not luxurious ones,” he pleads.

Some of the infrastructure completed during his tenure include the Maari and Kivengere lecture halls, the Nsibambi and Sabiti residential halls, the 1,000-seater dining hall, Nkoyooyo multipurpose hall, installation of a campus-wide internet facility and central water and waste-water systems.

In 2007, a new sports complex with a running track, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts was opened.
To combat what is perceived as the decaying quality of education generally on offer before students get to tertiary level, Professor Noll reveals: “We have done something which was innovative in Uganda but something that is common in the USA. We introduced foundation courses of study.”

Professor Noll breaks down these foundation courses of study like this: “We have four courses in religious studies. These are the Old Testament, the New Testament, Forming a Christian Worldview and Ethics. Then we also have four courses that are not religious.

These are writing and study skills, basic computer skills, health and wholeness, and elements of Mathematics so that even the non-science students have grounding in Mathematics. This is in addition to all the other courses the students study.”

But perhaps Professor Noll’s greatest achievement might have been getting UCU in 2004 to be chartered by the government of Uganda making, it the first private university in Uganda to receive a charter.

Noll says his first three years at UCU were dedicated to preparing for it and apart from the different aspects of financial and curriculum requirements; he had to address the issue of consolidating the land the university occupies.

Presently UCU sits on 86 acres that legally belong to the university. But before the university could be granted the charter, Professor Noll recalls the challenge of, “Getting all the pieces of land together with their titles. I spent quite a lot of time dealing with land issues because there were so many issues to be sorted out.”

He says he also had to work hard to change the impression in the public eye that UCU was “That place were bishops are trained from.”
Uganda Christian University was Bishop Tucker Theological College before the changeover.
“I was anxious that we do not lose the essence. I’m a Christian and Anglican. I brought this model from the USA which included a more holistic approach where the students and the teachers would share the same faith. There should be a vibrant chaplaincy and a great concern for ethics.

I tried to mould the university in that pattern.”
A father of five and grandfather of four, married 42 years now, although retiring as UCU’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Noll will not be completely leaving Uganda. He has helped found the Uganda Christian University Holdings Company based at Ntawo in Mukono, of which he is the current managing director.

“We are looking at the idea of real estate development. Although we have the challenge of squatters, we hope to sort that out. We wish to go into planned housing and since Mukono is not that far from Kampala, more and more people will wish to settle in Mukono.” The Uganda Christian University is the solo share holder in this company.


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