Professor Stephen Noll and his wife Peggy during the alumni get-together breakfast at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel. (Credit: Alex Taremwa)
“I love Mukono; we love Mukono,” Professor Stephen Noll told the alumni at their get-together breakfast on Saturday a fortnight ago.
Although his tenure as vice chancellor expired in 2010, his relationship with UCU has been always new.
From his motherland, the United States of America, he often returns to Mukono to participate in the university’s events, a gesture that portrays the mutual love between him and UCU.
The first thing one will notice about Prof. Noll is his demeanour: a calm, composed old-timer with unwavering discipline.
In his striped navy blue suit when I meet him for an interview, Noll keeps his wife Peggy close.
Throughout the interview, he sits relaxed looking straight into the eyes of Peggy who sits directly opposite him. Noll was UCU’s first vice chancellor (2000-2010). He is credited for entrenching the Christian values and the revolutionary principles that have continued to shape the character of the students, staff and alumni, giving the university its unique identity.
As Johnson Mayamba, an alumnus and former Standard staff, noted in a conversation I had with him recently, while he was still VC, Prof. Noll was often seen picking up litter from the compound, and dropping it in the bins.
The American academic, theologian, and missionary helped UCU to receive a government charter in 2004, the first of its kind for a private university in Uganda.
After his tenure as vice chancellor, Noll became the chief executive officer of the university’s investment arm, UCU Holdings.
For three-and-a-half years, he flew in from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he lives with his family to inspect, supervise, and take decisions on matters of UCU Holdings.
This was before he resigned on May 1, 2014 citing professional reasons and has since been involved in teaching, ministry and evangelism back in Pennsylvania.
“There’s a theological college near my home. They recently introduced an online teaching programme where I teach three courses.
“I’m also writing an Ethics study curriculum, an improved version of the coursebook used in Foundation Studies here [ at UCU] that I authored 10 years ago,” he said.
Noll is retired, again, but as a member of the Episcopal Church of the of the United States of America, (the Anglican Church of the US), the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, an author and scholar, he has found it hard to completely stay away from active duty.
So, he has since constituted a fully-fledged office in the basement of his house where he runs his day-to-day activities.
As their homecoming gift, the Nolls had the university’s new 22 lectureroom block named after them for their love and dedication to the transformation of UCU from a theological college to the best private university in Uganda. This, the Nolls say, is incomparable to anything.
“That was indescribably beautiful,” a reserved Peggy said. “We were greatly honoured to have our name on a classroom building. Now students are going to study in a building with our name on it. That is a deep privilege.”
With great confidence, Noll notes that there is great continuity in the work he started, especially in the Christian character of the university and emphasis on the integration of faith and learning.
He is not surprised, he says, about the fact that he and Dr. John Senyonyi worked together for over 10 years.
Despite the growth in the student numbers and the infrastructure of the university, Noll holds that the development of the Mbale and Kampala campuses is by far the best news he has received on his return.
“Most of the time I was here,” he said, “Mbale didn’t seem to be moving much.
“To hear that it has been accredited to be a constituent college is a significant achievement.”
I was involved in the founding of Kampala Campus too but I felt that its location then wasn’t the most favourable. I haven’t visited its new location but from what I gather, it is a great place.
Asked about the annual tuition increment that emanated from his regime, Noll attributed this trend to the inflation rate in the country and the need for the university to keep on the rails of growth.
“I thought that a small annual increment was better than one huge one announced after five years,” he explained.
He noted that if UCU focuses on the expansion of regional campuses, ICT and E-learning, while maintaining its Christian background, unprecedented growth is certain and he says he is confident that Dr. John Senyonyi is the right man to bring all that about.