Opinion: Against Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy (University of Colorado)

If you’re a student and you demean others due to their sexuality, you’ll be sent to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. If you’re a rich, white man and you try to pass a constitutional amendment to make those with different sexualities second class citizens, you could become president of the University of Colorado.

On April 10, the Board of Regents announced Mark Kennedy as the sole finalist to be the University of Colorado’s next president. Mark Kennedy is a terrible choice to lead the university — or anything — and the regents and search committee should be ashamed of themselves for such a pick. We must not let this stand.

As a congressman for Minnesota, Kennedy has a record of voting for moneyed and bigoted interests above all others. A handful of highlights include the following:

  • As mentioned, he co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.
  • He voted for restrictions on voters and grassroots political action committees while voting against campaign finance reforms to limit the power of money in politics.
  • He voted against funding for Black and Hispanic colleges.
  • He voted against a woman’s right to choose, again and again.
  • He voted for schools to set aside time to pray.
  • He voted time and again with the healthcare industry to reduce benefits.
  • He voted for warrantless electronic surveillance.
  • He voted for an unlimited war in Iraq.

The list goes on and on.

Most of that was found on literally one webpage, OnTheIssues

Since the announcement, Regent Lesley Smith tweeted that “some information about Mark has come to light that is concerning; my colleagues and I will be exploring this further.” 

While I appreciate Regent Smith’s acknowledgment that this information is concerning and should be explored, it’s completely unacceptable that his public record is only now being looked at. Students found all of this and much, much more in mere hours after the announcements, while the presidential search started over six months ago.

Let’s talk about the presidential search process.

The Regents chose to hire Wheless Partners, at the cost of $99,000 plus up to $25,000 in expenses, though with the caveat that the expenses cap could be raised. They were to work with a committee that included one dean, one faculty member from each of the four campuses, one staff member, one student, two alumni and four community members. Eventually, a second student was added to represent the graduate students, though the graduate student picked was primarily more of an administrator due to her role as the associate director of the Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy. On the whole, that doesn’t sound like a lot of community input.

One of the earlier articles in the Daily Camera about this presidential search directly warned against naming a sole finalist and a lack of transparency. But, given the regents somehow were able to miss — or worse yet, purposefully ignore — Kennedy’s past history, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they failed to read the paper local to their flagship campus.

About that past history of our sole presidential finalist. You’d think with such a distinguished career as a university president, U.S. congressman and businessman that there would be lots of other easily accessible information and views about Kennedy. And there is!

One of the things that Kennedy is better known for at the University of North Dakota, where he is currently president, is his hostile relationship with a key donor of tens of millions of dollars.  That’s not so good when the role of the university president is largely to increase donations! What does he do with the money that he does have? Until it became too politically volatile, he paid his “special assistant” over $100,000 to work in a different state, and a long-time friend was paid $17,250 per month of part-time work as an interim head of the “Center for Innovation,” again out of state

Prior to UND, Kennedy was the director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. There, he was known for creating a hostile work environment where he allegedly discriminated against others due to their sexual orientation. He also is said to have contributed to the culture of fear, as at least one employee eventually stopped reporting complaints against Kennedy due to fear of retaliation. 

And again, during his time in Congress, he showed a clear willingness to discriminate and harm the marginalized and less powerful, for the benefit of those in power. And if the regents didn’t want to do the work to look at his actual record, they could at least listen to the groups that do this for a living:

  • He earned a 17% by the National Education Association.
  • 7% by the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • A whopping 0 percent from the AFL-CIO, the American Public Health Network and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

To be fair, he got an A+ from the National Rifle Association and a 100% from the Christian Coalition, so not everyone hated him. Again, this information is all conveniently aggregated by OnTheIssues; the regents have absolutely no excuse to be surprised by any of this.

It’s no surprise that there has been an immediate negative response by the CU Community. Students joined together to form the Students Against Kennedy (SAK) to map out ways to stop this terrible appointment, including a rally at noon on Monday, April 15 at the Norlin main entrance and a mass demonstration when he visits campus on April 26. The CU Boulder subreddit quickly started discussing his record, with almost all posts being negative. CU Boulder’s Facebook announcement quickly had over 100 comments, with students, alumni, parents and potential future-Buff-parents reacting almost universally negatively to the news. And at least one member of the UND community chimed in to thank us for taking him off their hands, which isn’t surprising given a recent poll in UND’s local paper where — at the time of writing — 67 percent of respondents gave him a grade of F.

Either the regents were unaware of all of this — in which case we should seriously worry about their ability to think critically about any university matters — or they, too, are sending a message that the well-being of some powerful, rich, white guy is more important than the well-being of the university and its students.

It would be a travesty for Kennedy to be appointed president of the university. If ever there was a time to shut this campus down, it would be to stop the appointment of such a terrible leader. We cannot accept Mark Kennedy as president of the University of Colorado.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alex Wolf-Root at alexander.wolfroot@colorado.edu.

Alex Wolf-Root

Alex is a graduate student and part-time instructor in philosophy, as well as an organizer for CU's graduate labor union, the Committee on Rights and Compensation (bouldercrc.org).

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