Contributed by Dr. Richard Greggory Johnson
After an extensive national search that produced a deep and distinguished pool of candidates, Julia Chinyere Oparah, the provost and dean of the faculty at Mills College and a scholar in the field of ethnic studies, has just been announced University of San Francisco’s (UCF) next provost and vice president of academic affairs. Chinyere served as a member of the Mills faculty for nearly 20 years before being named provost and dean of the faculty in 2017. She will begin her work at USF on July 12. After assisting with the transition, Tyrone H. Cannon, who has been serving as interim provost since February of last year, will return to his position as university library dean.
Chinyere brings a wealth of experience to USF from her years of leadership and scholarship in higher education. As provost at Mills, she helped lead that community through times of disruption with steadfastness and care, and kept a central focus on students’ well-being and education. In both her scholarship and business decisions, she has demonstrated a deep commitment to collaboration and partnership, gender and racial equity, and global social justice.
During the search process that included meetings with groups across the university, she described how she was drawn to and is philosophically aligned with the USF’s distinctive Jesuit educational principles, including cura personalis, care of the whole person.
Major initiatives during her tenure at Mills include the development and implementation of the Mills Promise Program supporting students’ transition to college; guaranteed pathways for transfers; the first fully online master’s degree, in educational leadership; and the joint UC Berkeley-Mills engineering program. She worked with deans and department heads to diversify revenue streams through new graduate programs; reached untapped markets through online program development; improved retention through a signature undergraduate experience; co-led the transgender initiative, which led to Mills becoming the first women’s college to adopt a trans-inclusive admission policy; and increased the proportion of Black and Latinx students by introducing new programs in health equity, socially responsible business administration, communication, and critical education studies. She also worked to support the Indigenous community by establishing the American Indian Initiative to support recruitment efforts and introducing the first Native American Elder-in-Residence to the faculty.
Prior to her tenure at Mills, Chinyere worked in nonprofit administration, taught within the University of California system, and served as Canada research chair in social justice at the University of Toronto. Widely published, her work includes Global Lockdown: Race, Gender and the Prison-Industrial Complex, which explores globalization, gender, and mass incarceration; and Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth, a key text in university midwifery, reproductive health, and women’s studies classrooms.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, raised in the south of England, and with roots in southeast Nigeria, she earned doctoral and master’s degrees (in sociology and race and ethnic studies, respectively) at the University of Warwick. She also holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in modern and medieval languages and literature from the University of Cambridge.
She lives in Oakland with her partner, Shawn Nealy-Oparah, and 10-year-old daughter, Onyeka.
I am grateful for the work of the search committee (chaired by Interim Provost Tyrone Cannon) and the search advisory committee (chaired by Professor Evelyn Ho of the College of Arts and Sciences). Thank you for your service to the university and for helping to shape its future. I am also grateful to the community members who met with selected candidates, provided input, and shared a broad range of perspectives as we refined the qualities and qualifications we desired in our next provost. Thank you to our colleagues in Human Resources, particularly Martha Peugh-Wade and Maria Mays, and to the team at Witt Kieffer, who consulted with us on the search.
Please join us in welcoming Chinyere to USF as a partner in mission. Her collaborative leadership, wisdom, and experience will be critical as our community continues to build on the good, productive, and forward-looking work that has already taken place across campus during this challenging year of the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions.