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He’s a state university president and an African king. How Millersville’s new leader is bridging those worlds

Daniel Wubah is president of Millersville University. He's also an African king. He bridges those worlds and he hopes to help others do the same with partnerships he is creating between Millersville and universities in Ghana.

Millersville University President Daniel Wubah outside his office at Millersville University. He's also a tribal king in Ghana.
Millersville University President Daniel Wubah outside his office at Millersville University. He's also a tribal king in Ghana.Read moreBradley C Bower / For The Inquirer

One day last October, in a town in central Ghana, a land dispute dating back three generations was about to turn violent.

That same day, on another continent thousands of miles away, at a usually quiet state university campus in central Pennsylvania, another crisis was looming: Someone had drawn a swastika in the men’s room at the library.

Dealing with both problems was the responsibility of Daniel Wubah.

That’s what happens when you’re a university president — and a Ghana-born king.

As a tribal king — a royal title he inherited in 2017 when his uncle died — Wubah rules a district of about 140,000 people, while managing a 7,780-student university campus. It means daily phone calls to Ghana to confer with a council of elders, and at least a once-a-year visit.

“Every now and then, I step back and I ask myself how I’m handling the two,” Wubah, 58, said Wednesday in his office at Millersville University in Lancaster County. “I look at it as a work in progress. The challenges that I face daily are so unpredictable in most cases. … I don’t sleep that much.”

Bridging two worlds, Wubah hopes to help others bridge them, too. Last week, he and State Rep. Jordan Harris, a Millersville graduate from Philadelphia and a member of the university’s council of trustees, traveled to Ghana. They returned with agreements to smooth the way for faculty and student exchange programs between Millersville and the University of Cape Coast, Wubah’s alma mater, and the University of Education, Winneba.

Millersville isn’t the only Pennsylvania state university with global partnerships, but Wubah and Harris hope to create the deepest connection, possibly even allowing students to take up to two years of their study in Ghana and welcoming Ghana students to Millersville for two years.

Wubah hopes to send some Millersville students to Ghana for research as soon as next summer. And students who can’t go abroad will learn from Ghanaian students who come to Millersville, he said.

Such experiences are vital for a well-rounded education, Wubah said.

“When you think about the fact that most Fortune 500 companies make more profit outside the United States than they make domestically, you know the value of being globally educated,” he said.

Funding and specifics of the exchange programs still need to be worked out.

Still, the effort has been endorsed by leaders of Millersville’s trustees’ council.

“It really fits into our mission,” said vice chair Richard L. Frerichs, a retired education professor. “At Millersville, we try to represent a worldview.”

Royal ties

Wubah’s father died in a car accident when Wubah was just 7, and his mother, a seamstress, had to raise him and his three siblings.

“I doubt she ever imagined that her second-born son would end up as the president of a university in the United States,” Wubah said at his inauguration last spring.

Wubah moved to the United States to attend the University of Akron for his master’s in biology. A microbiologist, he got his doctorate in botany at the University of Georgia and then rose through the administrative ranks at Towson, James Madison, the University of Florida, Virginia Tech, and Washington and Lee, where he was provost and senior adviser to the president.

He was still at Washington and Lee when he ascended to the throne. His parents came from royal families. Being a king carries restrictions. He can’t eat in public; at his inauguration, he and two other kings from Ghana who attended ate in a private room and then joined the others.

“It gives me a good opportunity to walk around and talk to people while they are eating,” he said.

Wubah, whose royal name is Nana Ofosu Peko III, also can’t dance in public, or let his bare feet touch the ground. When he is in Ghana, he is accompanied by a security detail and people aren’t allowed to speak directly to him. They must go through a staff member. That restriction does not apply in the United States.

Wubah — who has two daughters, a Philadelphia schoolteacher and a medical school student — started at Millersville last summer. The Lancaster newspaper LNP covered his appointment, generating racist comments.

The newspaper followed with an editorial saying that Wubah was well-qualified and welcome and that the comments did not represent the community.

“Lancaster County is better than the xenophobia and racism that were expressed in some of the comments … ,” the paper wrote. “The proof of this can be found in the strong pushback those comments received from the majority of the commenters.”

Wubah and his wife, Judith, a biologist who got her doctorate at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, were grateful.

“That editorial convinced us, this is where we want to be,” he said.

On campus, news that their president was also a king surprised students.

“I was like, ‘He’s a king? Why is he here?’ ” said Diavian Gunner, 20, a junior from Philadelphia.

But she’s glad he is at Millersville.

“He’s so down-to-earth,” she said. “You just would never expect him to be a king because of how open and how warm you feel around him.”

Gunner is excited about a Ghana exchange program.

“Can I go today?” she asked.

The trip

In February, Wubah got a text from Harris, the state representative: A delegation from Ghana’s parliament was visiting Harrisburg, and he was meeting with them. Wouldn’t it be great to create partnerships with Ghanaian universities and governments, he thought.

“I would like to visit Ghana,” Harris told Wubah.

Harris, who grew up in South Philadelphia and attended Bartram High School, recalled how beneficial his semester-long study abroad experience in London had been.

“It showed me that there was so much more in the world outside of the four corners of 17th and Dickinson,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “It also gave me courage that I could achieve and do anything. I vowed not to stop traveling and to continue seeing the world, but to also provide this opportunity for others.”

In Ghana last month, Wubah and Harris spent time at the universities, sat in on governmental meetings, and visited Elmina Castle, which was used to hold slaves before they were sent to America. Harris touched the chains of former slaves and thought about his great-great-great-grandmother, a slave named Belle.

“It was overwhelming and emotional,” he said.

He wants students to have the same experience, he said.

In his prior jobs, Wubah had taken students to do environmental research in Ghana and would stop at Elmina.

“To me, one of the most important cultural experiences was to go through that castle,” he said. “It gave them a different perspective and understanding of what the slave trade was all about.”

Wubah also liked that Cape Coast’s roots are in teacher preparation, the same as at Millersville, which was founded in 1855.

Millersville’s focus on global education increased after Wubah’s arrival.

Last winter, Deborah Tamakloe, a Millersville education professor from Ghana, took students there. Five professors, including Tamakloe, are in Kenya this summer working on partnerships.

“Students who studied abroad in the winter of 2018 in Ghana have volunteered to be trip leaders for students next year,” Tamakloe said. “They want to go back. This is partly because Dr. Wubah is leading the way.”

A dual role

From the time his uncle began grooming him to be king, he said, there was a clear understanding that he and his wife would remain in the United States.

“I’ve been in this country 35 years, more time than I spent in Ghana,” he said.

Wubah said he uses his leadership experiences as king to inform his decisions as president, and vice versa.

As king, he is responsible for his district’s economic, cultural, educational, and health needs. He also must resolve such disputes as the land fight that erupted last fall.

He was in Ghana at the time.

“I had to find a way to prevent any bloodshed,” he said. “I ended up creating a buffer zone. I … said this area doesn’t belong to any family anymore.”

That ended it, he said.

Meanwhile, Millersville’s chief of staff notified him of the swastika in the library. With staff’s help, he drafted a statement that such hatred would not be tolerated.

“We were able to manage it,” he said.

As only a college president and king could do.