Fight For and Against Mark Kennedy as CU President Gets Even Uglier

Mark Kennedy making a point during an appearance at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs last week.
Mark Kennedy making a point during an appearance at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs last week.
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The debate over whether former congressman Mark Kennedy should become the next University of Colorado president has only gotten nastier in the wake of his appearances at CU campuses last week — sessions marked by concerns over and pointed questions about his hard-right politics and allegedly shaky record at the University of North Dakota, his previous academic stop.

The university's Faculty Council subsequently issued a "Report on Mark Kennedy and Ethical Misconduct" that listed eight reasons why he shouldn't take over the $4.5 billion enterprise that is CU — assertions that Kennedy promptly attempted to undermine, as laid out in excerpts from an "Open Letter Addressing Faculty Letter" below.

Linda Shoemaker and Irene Griego, two members of the board's Democratic minority, have now publicly said they'll oppose Kennedy when the regents sit down to vote on his candidacy — they're expected to do so at a meeting scheduled for today, May 2 — even though they joined their colleagues in unanimously naming him the sole finalist for the position. Meanwhile, Republican regent Chase Hill went nuclear in a Facebook post declaring his support for Kennedy in language that was positively Trumpian.

"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. The Far Left has deployed shameful tactics in this context. And as long as the Far Left engages in this bullying behavior, we must confront them. Perhaps some day we will demonstrate that they cannot win through intimidation. It’s up to us."

Because Republicans represent a majority on the Board of Regents (a rarity in current statewide politics owing to last November's blue-wave election), the GOP contingent can essentially hire Kennedy despite any and all misgivings as long as there are no defections from the ranks, and they have a history of sticking together. Note that the previous two CU presidents, ex-Senator Hank Brown and former gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Benson, hail from the same party.

But Dems aren't mutely sitting on the sidelines. Governor Jared Polis tweeted, "It’s never good for a candidate or the institution if the board is split on a decision of this magnitude." And Mark Udall, who represented Boulder in the U.S. House of Representatives before becoming a one-term senator, issued a statement that reads in part, "Too many questions remain unanswered and a new president who doesn’t have a broad cross section of support from all of Colorado’s stakeholders will be hamstrung from the very beginning of his or her tenure."

As for the Faculty Council, its chair, CU Denver English professor Joanne Addison, writes via email that "I’d prefer for the report to speak for itself, especially given that Kennedy hasn’t responded directly to the issues raised (he responded, but not directly to the specific issues we raised)." However, Addison shared data from more than 2,800 feedback forms submitted by faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumnae and community members, as collected by the council's executive committee. The results were exceedingly negative toward Kennedy, as seen in the following graphic, which depicts the overall rating by constituency.

Fight For and Against Mark Kennedy as CU President Gets Even Uglier (2)
University of Colorado Faculty Council

Here are the eight problematic issues for Kennedy as identified by the Faculty Council, with each standard-print item juxtaposed with his italicized reply.

Faculty Council
1. Misrepresentation regarding tribal college programs

On his CV, Kennedy claims that he “[m]et with all tribal colleges to establish 2+2 Finish in 4 programs for priority degrees."

CU Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Fenn stated in an email distributed to the Board of Regents: "More to the point in terms of Kennedy’s CV, I was unable to find anyone familiar with the '2+2, Finish in 4' program to which he refers. One well-placed tribal-college contact said the following: 'I do not know about the '2+2, Finish in 4' project that he refers to and I doubt that the other tribal colleges do either.' The same contact was unaware of any meetings to 'establish' this program. President Kennedy did visit tribal colleges at least once on an annual bus tour undertaken to familiarize new faculty and administrators with the state of North Dakota. These were not business meetings, but meet-and-greet encounters in the presence of other new faculty members on the tour.

"When asked during the Boulder forum to '[t]ell us the names of the people you met with and approximately when you met them,' Mark Kennedy admitted — contrary to the statement on his CV — that they do not have 2+2 programs at all tribal colleges and could only name one person he met with in regards to this program."

The University of North Dakota (UND) could not confirm the information on Mr. Kennedy’s CV. The UND Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Meloney Linder, told the Grand Forks Herald after the Boulder forum that UND has a relationship with Cankdeska Cikana Community College, but did not name any other tribal college with which UND has established a relationship.

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item One

I would suggest that anyone wanting to verify what my CV says can review the actual language. I never asserted that I personally met with tribal colleges on 2+2 programs. On Pages 6-7 of the CV, I refer to working toward goals through "captains, program managers and teams." Like all university presidents, my staff and I work collaboratively to achieve goals, such as meeting with the leaders at tribal colleges and promoting diversity across the campus. When we make "progress on the plan," it does not suggest that we have completed all of the elements of the plan. I am pleased that we have established a program with Cankdeska Cikana Community College as stated in my CV. We will continue to work with other tribal colleges to enact these programs.

Faculty Council
2. Misrepresentation regarding One Colorado

While Mark Kennedy was on campus, The Denver Post reported: "Mark Kennedy, the finalist for president of the University of Colorado, said Thursday that he’s reached out to the LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado to 'counsel and advise him' after receiving criticism for his voting record on those issues while serving in Congress." At both the Denver and Boulder forums, Kennedy repeated this claim that he reached out to One Colorado, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ equality, suggesting that he had taken a proactive measure.

However, when One Colorado was asked about whether Mark Kennedy had initiated contact, a representative from the group explained that in fact — and contrary to Kennedy’s repeated assertions that he had proactively contacted the group himself — One Colorado had reached out to him: "I (Daniel Ramos), an alum of the Boulder and Denver campuses, a tri-Executive at Boulder, and ED of One CO, heard from my LGBTQ folks about Mark Kennedy and so reached out to Regent Kroll about a meeting with Kennedy to talk about LGBTQ issues, our concerns, and what we want in our next president. And we discussed issues of Title IX, trans+women’s healthcare, and federal nondiscrimination protections, since he’d be moving from a state with no protections to a state with some of the best protections for LGBTQ folks in the country."

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Two

While One Colorado, through Regent Kroll, asked to arrange a meeting with me, during the meeting I asked One Colorado’s leaders to join a group to "counsel and advise me" on an ongoing basis regarding LGBTQ+ matters.

Mark Kennedy addressing the crowd at Macky Auditorium during an April 26 event facilitated by regent Sue Sharkey.
Mark Kennedy addressing the crowd at Macky Auditorium during an April 26 event facilitated by regent Sue Sharkey.

Faculty Council
3. Misrepresentation regarding graduation rates

At the campus forums and in his CV, Kennedy lauded the increase in graduation rates at UND, which he claims experienced an overall increase of 4 percent in 2017 and 2018. At UCCS, Kennedy specifically said: "Our diverse communities have had the same increase in graduation rates under his leadership as other students."

UND’s published numbers, however, show results are mixed at best. It is not clear how much the overall increase in graduation rates (2012 cohort) was affected by simply lowering the number of credit hours students needed to graduate. Kennedy’s specific claim that the graduation rate of underrepresented groups increased at the same 4 percent rate as the overall rate is not clearly supported by UND’s own reports. According to the UND website, the rate for women increased only 1 percent; the rates for Asian students actually decreased by 3 percent; the rate for Native Americans students decreased 1 percent; and the rate for Non-Resident Aliens increased 3 percent — none of these numbers reflect the "same increase" Kennedy claimed at the UCCS forum.

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Three

UND’s published numbers show that in the two-year period ending in June 2018, the overall campus graduation rate increased 8 percent. In the same period, nearly all diverse communities increased by a greater amount: African-American 14 percent, Hispanic 17 percent, American Indian 11 percent, Mixed Race 14 percent. While the graduation rates for Asian and Non-Resident Aliens did not increase by more than the average rate, I am proud of the academic achievements of our diverse communities.

Faculty Council
4. Misrepresentation regarding his political activities while in academia

Mr. Kennedy stated at the Boulder forum that "[my] 9-year track record in academia is starkly different from my voting record." He made similar statements in other forums. It is demonstrably false that Kennedy’s nine-year track record in academia is starkly different from his voting record. Kennedy began working at Johns Hopkins in 2011 and then at George Washington University in 2012. During that time, he became Treasurer for Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign. Pawlenty eventually dropped out of the president’s race, and later in 2012, Mark Kennedy publicly advocated for the Republican nominee to select Pawlenty as Vice President, specifically because Pawlenty "enacted bills and appointed judges to protect life, marriage and the role of faith in our public square." At the time Kennedy served as Pawlenty’s campaign treasurer and advocated that he be selected as Vice President, Pawlenty was known for his anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research views. 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.

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Four

I note that this topic was discussed at last week’s CU Denver Open Forum. My involvement with Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign started before I accepted any position within higher education administration. Mr. Pawlenty dropped out of the Presidential Race in August of 2011, a little less than a year before Barack Obama first publicly changed his stance on same gender marriage in May of 2012.

None of this negates the fact that, 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. My former colleague at George Washington University, Roberto Izurieta, stated in a public letter, my "life is testimony to having no room for discrimination or prejudice." I remain committed to being a leader for all. CU students, faculty, staff and members of our community will have my full support and respect no matter who they love or how they identify.

Faculty Council
5. Failure to disclose a pending lawsuit and his position on Title IX

At the CU Denver forum, Kennedy was asked what other matters he omitted from his CV that might cause potential harm to CU. Kennedy did not disclose that UND is currently being sued for Title IX violations. At the Boulder forum, Kennedy was specifically asked "Can you tell us which proposed revisions [to Title IX] you support and which you oppose?" He declined to answer. However, reports in both the Daily Camera and Grand Forks Herald make clear that under Kennedy’s leadership, UND has maintained a definition of Title IX and employs practices that make it harder for victims to seek justice — a definition and practice which the CU community has rejected through its policies.

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Five

I disclosed information that related to me personally in my application, rather than lawsuits against the University of North Dakota or the North Dakota State University system. While it is true that the North Dakota State University System is currently involved in a lawsuit related to the termination of the University of North Dakota’s women’s hockey program, that lawsuit could not cause any harm to the University of Colorado. I supported the difficult decision to terminate the women’s hockey program, but am confident that the decision was not just legal but necessary to meet our fiscal obligations.

As the Boulder Daily Camera reported on April 27, I did answer [the aforementioned question]. Quoting the Camera: "In response, Kennedy said, 'To my understanding, this has already been debated and discussed at system level,' adding he would work with the CU Board of Regents to respond to such policies. Kennedy on Friday said at the University of North Dakota, they decided 'that that says what we have to do, not what we can do.... We can do more than the law requires us to do,' he said."

To be clearer, I am committed to taking whatever actions are lawful to preserve the University of Colorado’s ability to fairly and consistent investigate sexual misconduct and redress the harm that it causes to our community. Sexual misconduct, whether perpetrated by or committed against any member of the community, undermines our efforts to build an inclusive community. Even if the Department of Education takes the position that universities are not obligated to investigate sexual misconduct that occurs off campus, I would take the same position that I have at the University of North Dakota, which is that we must investigate sexual misconduct that occurs off campus to the fullest extent of our ability....

As I have said on several occasions and said during my opening statement at the Boulder Open Forum, I would oppose CU’s benefits or policies going backwards. I support CU’s policies regarding Title IX.

Mark Kennedy's tour of University of Colorado campuses also brought him to CU Denver.
Mark Kennedy's tour of University of Colorado campuses also brought him to CU Denver.

Faculty Council
6. Failure to acknowledge decreased fundraising and donor alienation

The ability of CU’s president to successfully perform fund-raising activities and work with funders is a critical component of the role. Kennedy’s CV mentions that in "Academic Year 2016-17" he "increased fundraising" to $40 million (Kennedy CV). His CV does not mention fundraising in his remaining time at UND, however. Fundraising has, in fact, dropped. In fiscal year 2018, fundraising declined to $34.7 million. This fiscal year, the number sits at $33 million with about two months left in the fundraising cycle.

During the Faculty Council’s meeting with Mr. Kennedy, he acknowledged the drop in fundraising during his tenure but blamed it in part on his application for the Presidency of UCF [Kennedy was not hired to lead the University of Central Florida]. News reports confirm, however, that Mr. Kennedy alienated long-time donors to UND with his lack of responsiveness and leadership. For example, one committee of donors supporting the men’s golf program described Kennedy’s refusal to meet regarding the Ray Richards Golf Course in Grand Forks: "We have requested multiple meetings with President Kennedy. We were told that he would not meet with us until sometime next year. We have other documented instances where President Kennedy simply never responded to our requests. This is disappointing."

Another major UND donor family (Engelstad) has pledged not to donate to the university as long as Mr. Kennedy is president because, “[f]rankly, the governance and the leadership isn’t there[.]”

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Six

The letter includes assertions that I discussed with the Faculty Council in our April 22 meeting. The assertions being made here do not account for our current year-to-date fundraising when combined with a recently, widely reported $20 million anonymous gift for UND’s new business school, when finalized would represent a record fundraising year.

When I completed the candidate questionnaire and applied for the presidency at the University of Colorado, I acknowledged a challenging relationship with a major donor of the University of North Dakota. The multi-decade dispute with the Engelstad Foundation centered on the NCAA mandated dropping of UND’s Sioux nickname was discussed at the April 22 Open Forum. Conversations with some donors who support the men’s golf team continue toward the end of deferring the program’s termination by a previous president.

Faculty Council
7. Refusal to take responsibility for voting against funding for HBCUs

At the UCCS forum, in response to a question about his vote against funding for Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs), Kennedy responded: "I know there’s a question out there of voting against some $85 million increased funding for historically Black and Hispanic colleges. That is a mischaracterization of what that vote was. Anytime there was votes for funding on that, I voted for it." Kennedy goes on to say that, in fact, there was a 29 percent increase in federal funding for HBCUs during his six years in Congress. But the record is clear that Mr. Kennedy voted against legislation that would have increased funding for HBCUs as well as tribal colleges HBCUs (e.g., his March 2006 vote against a revision of the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act [Bill HR 609, Amendment 772] that sought to improve graduation rates at HBCUs).

Regarding his statement of a 29 percent increase in federal funding for HBCUs during his time in Congress, publicly available federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System shows a marked decrease in Federal Funding per FTE Student at Public and Private Nonprofit Four-Year HBCUs, especially when compared to non-HBCUs.

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Seven

On each of the five votes that actually funded Historically Black Colleges, I voted yes, because promoting diversity has always been important to me. During my six years in Congress, funding for Historically Black Colleges increased 29 percent, from $185 million to $238 million....

[Regarding the March 2006 vote], it is misleading to say that this particular vote was about Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It was one provision in a comprehensive substitute for the bill to reauthorize federal financial aid that passed with my support. Some Republicans opposed extending federal financial aid. I voted for it reflecting my lifelong support for financial aid for higher education. My vote helped to preserve the availability of Pell grants, as the substitute bill would have lowered the maximum award. As a primary source financial aid for lower-income students, Pell grants are essential to expanding the benefits that a college degree can provide.

Faculty Council
8. Claim that signing the Pomona letter and issues related to DACA are not relevant at UND because of "North Dakota sensibilities"

At the Faculty Council meeting Kennedy was asked if he signed the Pomona letter [a document calling on the U.S. to continue supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program]:

Kennedy: I do not know that I did?
Addison: Do you know what the Pomona letter is?
Kennedy: Tell me about it

First at the Faculty Council meeting, and then repeatedly at forums across our campuses, Kennedy asserted that signing the Pomona letter would not make a difference and that this was not an important issue for members of the UND community because of "North Dakota sensibilities." However, a public letter to President Kennedy asking specifically for him to sign the letter and support DACA was published in the Grand Forks Herald on September 11, 2017. Flint Devine wrote on behalf of a student organization at UND, explaining why doing so was important to the UND community. In closing, Devine writes: "The addition of President Kennedy's signature to Pomona College's 'Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and our Undocumented Immigrant Students' would signify that the University of North Dakota truly seeks to be a leader and champion of diversity in this state."

Mark Kennedy
Response to Item Eight

When I was asked about the Pomona College letter in my conversation with the Faculty Council last week, I did not immediately recognize the Pomona letter as pertaining to DACA students. But it does not lessen the commitment I would bring toward protecting CU’s undocumented students and employees. Unlike the University of North Dakota, the University of Colorado has a significant number of students who benefit from both the DACA program and the ASSET tuition classification. I support these programs and will advocate at both the state and federal levels on behalf of undocumented students and employees.

The University of Colorado Board of Regents will hold what's been designated as a "special meeting" at 1 p.m. today in Krugman Hall on the CU Anschutz Campus, located at 12700 East 19th Avenue in Aurora. During the get-together, the board chair will ask for a motion to recess into executive session "to discuss a personnel matter at CU system administration — presidential search." The public session of the meeting will convene after the executive session concludes and "formal action may be taken." Click for more information about the CU Board of Regents' special meeting, accessible in the "Documents" link.

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