The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents has selected Mark Kennedy, President of the University of North Dakota, as the sole candidate in the search to replace outgoing CU President Bruce Benson.
In an email statement released to students on April 10, Board of Regents Chair Sue Sharkey wrote that Kennedy was “unanimously recommended” by all nine regents.
“He has excelled in leadership roles in large, complex organizations,” Sharkey wrote. “We believe he is the right person to build on the success CU has achieved in recent years.”
While he has not been officially selected yet, he will likely begin the new position on June 15. Kennedy announced that he was leaving the University of North Dakota in a statement Wednesday morning, saying he was “excited for this new opportunity, but sorry to leave UND.” According to UND representatives, his departure comes as a surprise. He will continue working at UND through the academic year and the legislative session.
Kennedy, 61, served as UND president from 2016-2019, and before that was director of the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. From 2001-2007 he represented Minnesota as a Republican in the House of Representatives. In 2006 he ran for U.S. Senate but was defeated by Amy Klobuchar. He has experience in the business industry and has worked for Macy’s, General Mills and Accenture.
The Daily Camera reported that the board will not release the names of the other five candidates recommended by the search committee, saying it is a “personnel issue.” While Colorado Open Records law requires that all finalists for the positions be publicly known for 14 business days, by only announcing one finalist, the board is able to keep other candidates’ information private.
When asked questions via email regarding the announcement, Sharkey forwarded questions to CU Vice President for Communication Ken McConnellogue. McConnellogue, in an email to the CU Independent, said it is common for the board to only select one finalist. The past three CU presidents ― Bruce Benson, Hank Brown and Elizabeth Hoffman ― were all solo finalists.
According to McConnellogue, other candidates have current jobs that “could be jeopardized” if they were publicly named.
While Sharkey stated that Kennedy “has a solid track record in leadership roles in large organizations and a deep appreciation for academia,” some at CU voiced frustration following the announcement that the Regents chose a politician rather than someone who came from a higher education background.
“As an educator, it’s disappointing that they’re not appointing a person who is an educator and not a politician first,” said Steven Frost, an instructor in CU’s Media Studies department. “It’s really disappointing that they couldn’t find a person who wasn’t involved in Republican politics to take the position. I wish they had somebody who was actually more interested in higher education than political agendas.”
Frost also raised concerns over the budget cuts that UND underwent during Kennedy’s tenure, and said he is worried about the ramifications of trying to run a university “like a business.”
Sharkey told the Camera that the board was seeking someone with business, politics and higher education experience, so Kennedy was the perfect fit. She also told the Camera his experience handling budget cuts was a plus, as she wants a leader who can make tough decisions about the budget if there are funding issues.
Kennedy is also criticized for his anti-LGBT voting record while in Congress, which included voting in favor of a bill to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman. He also voted to restrict abortion rights. The ACLU gives him a rating of 7% on civil rights issues.
In an interview with the Camera, Kennedy said he considered same-sex marriage a “settled issue,” and said that he appointed the first openly LGBTQ dean at UND.
Board of Regents member Lesley Smith (D-at large) tweeted Wednesday that “some information about Mark has come to light that is concerning; my colleagues and I will be exploring this further.” Earlier in the day she had tweeted that “[Kennedy] had very strong answers about diversity, including LGBTQ issues.”
Smith told the Camera that the Regents had not discussed Kennedy’s voting record during his interview and that she had not been aware of it until community members tweeted critiques of his record to her.
Kennedy has also come under fire for “alienating university donors.” In an article by the Bismarck Tribune published on March 1, 2019, Kris Engelstad McGarry of the Englestad foundation said “the governance and the leadership isn’t there” in regards to Kennedy’s performance as UND president.
McGarry announced that the Engelstad family will pull donations to the university until Kennedy is “removed from office.” While other programs, such as the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the hockey program and student scholarships at UND will remain funded, the Englestads expressed concern for Kennedy’s leadership.
“[Kennedy] has given pay raises to people and changed their job titles to suit him,” McGarry told the Tribune. “I do believe there is accountability for your job performance, and he has underperformed consistently. So, if that means that his contract is not renewed or his contract is called up, those are hard decisions to make, but that’s the decisions that bosses make about people they hire.”
McConnellogue said the board has “no concern about Kennedy alienating donors.” McConnellogue claims that the Engelstad family’s “anger” came from the NCAA forcing UND to change the nickname of the Engelstad arena from the “Fighting Sioux”, something that the Engelstad family did not believe the university was forceful enough in fighting.
Kennedy was also criticized last year for his decision to keep his chief of staff on board from a remote location. The Grand Forks Herald reported that Angelique Foster would be working remotely from Texas with a $25,000 budget for travel expenses. In an interview with the Camera, Kennedy said he believed that some of the criticism of Foster’s situation came from people who “couldn’t understand how a young African-American woman from the South could be as qualified and worthy” to do the job.
Kennedy is set to visit all four CU campuses during the week of April 22 and will be at CU Boulder on April 26. There will also be community forums that week and an online form will be posted on the CU website for people to submit feedback about the selection.
Contact CU Independent Senior News Editor Robert Tann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Carina Julig at email@example.com.