Mark Kennedy Gets Big-Bucks Boot from University of Colorado

Mark Kennedy is out as president at the University of Colorado.
Mark Kennedy is out as president at the University of Colorado. University of Colorado
In May 2019, Westword published a story headlined "Is New University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy Already on the Clock?" The answer to that question was "Yes," and today the clock struck midnight when the CU Board of Regents approved a $1.3 million settlement to buy out Kennedy's contract. His exit date is July 1.

The move was no surprise. On May 10, Kennedy had issued the following statement: "The Board of Regents and I have entered into discussions about an orderly transition of the presidency of the university in the near future. The board has a new makeup this year, which has led to changes in its focus and philosophy. We have made great progress in each of the major areas we identified when I was honored to become president, including strategic planning; diversity, equity and inclusion; online education; and technology transformation. Much of that progress came in the face of the pandemic. I appreciate the many smart and dedicated people who work hard every day to help the university meet its mission to serve its students and the state. CU is on a positive trajectory."

Ten days later, Kennedy's ride as CU president is officially over — but things got bumpy even before he was formally on the payroll.

We laid out the basics on April 15, 2019, in "Why So Many People Hate the Idea of Mark Kennedy as Next CU President."  A protest was planned on that day over the Board of Regents' choice of Kennedy — a onetime businessman and former Republican member of Congress who was then the University of North Dakota's president — as the sole finalist for the position.

Plenty of CU stakeholders had lined up against Kennedy owing largely to a congressional voting record described by United Mexican American Students y Movimiento Estudiantil Chincanx de Azlán and CU Young Democratic Socialists of America, the two groups that sponsored the rally, as "anti-queer, anti-union, anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-public education, anti-environment, anti-Palestine, anti-science, anti-civil rights."

An "Open Letter to the Regents of the University of Colorado," written collaboratively by a group that included assorted faculty members, made many of the same points, albeit with more polite language. "Mr. Kennedy appears to be a divisive administrator with troubled relations to the public and to the media — not someone who would maintain CU’s academic rankings and public image, or bring together our diverse students, staff and faculty," it stated.

Such concerns fell on deaf ears, however; at the time, the Board of Regents was under majority Republican control. But while Kennedy tried to mend fences after taking over the job — as evidenced by an extensive Westword Q&A published that July — he continued to be viewed as an extremely conservative force in a system whose flagship institution, CU Boulder, is rightly viewed as one of the most liberal universities in the country.

When Democrats regained control of the board in the November 2020 election, Kennedy instantly became a short-timer. The board, which approved the settlement by an 8-1 vote, is expected to name an interim president soon, at which point the search for a new leader of Colorado's largest university system will start all over again.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts