The weeks-long debate over University of Colorado presidential nominee Mark Kennedy grew even more contentious Monday, with an elected regent accusing “Far Leftists” of smear tactics and a group representing CU’s faculty alleging Kennedy engaged in “ethical misconduct.”
Kennedy is the only finalist for the president’s job, and the Board of Regents is expected to take a final vote Thursday on whether to hire him to succeed the outgoing Bruce Benson.
The Republican-majority board unanimously voted to name Kennedy as the finalist on April 10, but backlash against him — focused on his congressional votes against gay marriage and in favor of abortion restrictions, and concerns about his commitment to diversity — was intense at a series of public forums across the Front Range last week.
The CU Faculty Council, which opposes Kennedy’s hiring, announced Monday that it had received feedback forms from the university that were filled out during those campus visits last week. The council said its own analysis of the data showed about 82 percent of the roughly 2,800 people who submitted feedback thought Kennedy would struggle to meet expectations in most areas of his job.
Feedback varied based on which campus the respondents were from and the role of the people filling out the forms, such as student, faculty or staff. CU administrators were the only group with fewer than half of respondents saying Kennedy would struggle with expectations.
“Well-orchestrated Far Leftist mob”
Also on Monday, Regent Chance Hill — a Colorado Springs Republican representing the 5th Congressional District — posted a lengthy commentary on Facebook declaring his support for Kennedy and accusing those he considers leftists of intolerance for people with different views.
“Come hell or high water, I will proudly and unapologetically vote yes this Thursday to appoint Mark Kennedy as our next CU president,” Hill wrote. “Whether he is confirmed or not remains to be seen. But I will not reward a small, well-orchestrated Far Leftist mob — who in my opinion represents a mentality as dangerous to this nation’s future as any foreign threat we face.”
That Facebook post followed a statement issued by former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall calling on CU to restart its presidential search and present “a broader pool of finalists,” alleging the process “left only Republicans, as I understand it, as viable candidates.”
Udall represented Colorado in the Senate from 2009 to 2015, and served alongside Kennedy in the early 2000s when both were in the U.S. House of Representatives. He called Kennedy, the current president of the University of North Dakota, “an honorable, decent man,” and stressed his objection was with the way the search was handled.
But Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU system, denied that the Board of Regents considered “only Republicans” as viable candidates for the university presidency — or even asked candidates’ political affiliations.
“No candidates were moved forward or held back on the basis of political affiliation,” McConnellogue said in an email. “Doing so would violate CU’s policy on non-discrimination. Some candidates (not all, or even a majority) had previously served in elected office, which gave insight into their political affiliation.”
Two Democratic regents — Irene Griego, who co-chaired the search committee, and Linda Shoemaker, who represents 2nd Congressional District — have publicly announced they will vote against hiring Kennedy, who currently serves as the president of the University of North Dakota.
Shoemaker said she won’t vote for Kennedy both because of widespread opposition in her district, and because of a new faculty report that has raised allegations Kennedy misrepresented his accomplishments.
“I attended most of the open forums last week and listened to the anguished voices raised against him. In addition, I have also heard from thousands of stakeholders urging a no vote,” Shoemaker said in a statement.
Allegations of “ethical misconduct”
The 10-page report issued by the CU Faculty Council — which represents faculty on all four of the university’s campuses — alleged Kennedy lied about his outreach to LGBT people and his political work while serving in academia, and exaggerated improvements at the University of North Dakota.
Kennedy, in a response issued Monday, said it was the faculty report that stretched the truth.
“With all due respect to them, the letter identifies no ‘ethical misconduct’ but instead misconstrues my record and responses to questions from last week’s open forums,” he said.
The report alleged Kennedy misrepresented the facts when he said his work in academia was separate from his time in politics, because he served as the treasurer of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign in 2011, when he worked at Johns Hopkins University.
After Pawlenty dropped out of the race, Kennedy allegedly wrote an endorsement for the political blog Powerline, where he said Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should choose Pawlenty as a running mate because he “enacted bills and appointed judges to protect life, marriage and the role of faith in our public square.”
“Contrary to his repeated claims, less than nine years ago and while he was in academia, Kennedy did this work and advocacy on behalf of a politician opposed to many ideals around diversity and inclusion central to CU’s core values,” the faculty report said.
Kennedy countered that he started working with Pawlenty’s campaign before moving into academia, and that his support for Pawlenty didn’t negate his subsequent work.
“During my tenure in higher education, I have been an inclusive leader, and I have supported the LGBTQ+ community, both in policy and in action,” he said.
The report also alleged Kennedy misrepresented his contact with One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy group, with the disagreement centering on whether he claimed to make the first move. The faculty members who signed the letter said Kennedy falsely gave the impression he reached out to One Colorado. Kennedy said he never claimed to be the one to reach out first, but only said that he asked One Colorado to “advise and counsel” him on LGBTQ matters going forward.
The report also raised questions about whether Kennedy exaggerated his accomplishments at University of North Dakota, including outreach to tribal colleges and increases in graduation rates.
Some of the disagreement appeared to result from a bullet point on Kennedy’s resume that included a sentence fragment with no subject.
Kennedy’s resume mentioned work on a partnership with tribal colleges in North Dakota. A bullet point below said “Met with all tribal colleges” — without specifying whether he or someone else met with them.
The faculty reported interpreted the point as stating that he had personally met with representatives for all tribal colleges, which the colleges denied. Kennedy said he wasn’t attempting to claim credit for all meetings, because above the bullet point he stated he met with “captains, program managers and teams” on the tribal initiative.
Other disagreements may have resulted from what data Kennedy and the CU faculty chose to work with. Kennedy said UND’s graduation rate increased by about 8 percent between June 2016 and June 2018, and that all underrepresented racial groups of students had seen their graduation rates go up. The CU faculty looked at the change from June 2017 to June 2018, and found graduation rates decreased slightly for Asian and American Indian students.
All of the racial groups that Kennedy and the CU faculty cited had fewer than 50 students, however, so it’s difficult to be sure what represented a real trend and what was statistical noise, particularly with only two years of data available.
The faculty report also argued that Kennedy misrepresented his fundraising ability at the University of North Dakota and his congressional record on funding historically black colleges and universities, and failed to mention a Title IX lawsuit against UND related to getting rid of the women’s hockey team.
Kennedy countered that the University of North Dakota lawsuit had nothing to do with the University of Colorado, that fundraising has rebounded after a spat with a major donor and that he has consistently supported historically black colleges and universities.
“Shocked by the level of incivility”
Steve Bosley, a Republican who served on the Board of Regents for 12 years, said he was disappointed to see the Faculty Council “campaigning” against the finalist for university president.
He added that he felt the opposition to Kennedy has been ruder than that against previous presidents Bruce Benson and Hank Brown. Both Benson and Brown were conservative Republicans, but crowds didn’t interrupt or boo them when they held community forums, he said.
“I’m disappointed and I guess almost shocked by the level of incivility and almost demonizing going on,” he said. “(Friday’s forum in Boulder) was a loud, obnoxious crowd.”
Still, Bosley said he thinks that Kennedy can unify the CU system. Benson was hired on a party-line vote in 2008 and had significant opposition from the Faculty Council, but was effective in lobbying the General Assembly and convincing donors to support the university, Bosley said.
“He came with a lot of people not supporting him,” he said. “We elected him and he went to work and won people over by doing his job.”