Kennedy elected CU system president amid campus controversies

7 May 2019

Alex Dant

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The sole finalist for the CU system president, Mark Kennedy, was approved in a 5-4 vote along party lines at a special meeting with the Board of Regents on May 2. If he accepts the position, Kennedy will be the CU system’s 23rd president.

According to Ken McConnelogue, the CU vice- president for communications, as well as a statement issued by Chair Sue Sharkey and Vice Chair Jack Kroll, the search began in September of last year.

The selection process began with a pool of candidates that were reduced to 10, and then six potential finalists. In a unanimous decision by the Board of Regents, Kennedy was ushered in as the sole finalist from the remaining pool of potential finalists.

Kennedy will start in his position as CU president in July and will succeed current president Bruce Benson, who has been the CU president for the past 11 years prior to his recent retirement announcement.

Kennedy’s path to CU president has been met with a large amount of vocal resistance. His tenure as the president of the University of North Dakota, as well as a congressman representing the 2nd and 6th districts of Minnesota in 2001-2002 and 2003-2006 respectively, have led students to heavily protest his presidency, seen during Kennedy’s tour of the system’s four campuses.

During his time in congress, Kennedy backed a number of measures that were deemed anti-LGBTQ and pro-life, supported lifetime bans on congress members becoming lobbyists and participated in at least two environmental protection initiatives.

During his tenure at UND, Kennedy had a public dispute with a major donor that threatened to pull funding from the system for as long as he ran it, ended the women’s hockey team program and the swimming program and cut budgets across the board after a funding shortfall. The University of Central Florida decided not to choose Kennedy as their new president in 2018. According to Shoag Bakeet, a junior pursuing a double major in political science and economics as well as a minor in history, Kennedy would not be a good fit for the needs and demographics of the university system.

Bakeet has taken part in a protest on campus and written  a letter representing students on campus who have expressed a desire not to name Kennedy as president.

In this letter, Bakeet expressed that Kennedy would be an ill fit for the CU system because he has not shown to be able to fight for the well-being of the minority population on campus, as well as DACA students at the University of North Dakota.

Bakeet also said that Kennedy’s ambiguous answers to public forum questions regarding to minority group relations is a reason for Kennedy to not represent the system.

Bakeet’s biggest frustration with the selection process for Kennedy has been the lack of acknowledgement of student concerns. She said that chancellor Venkat Reddy was picked with more input from students than the CU system president.

While the vote has already concluded, choosing Kennedy, Bakeet said that in an ideal situation, the CU Board of Regents would see an immense demographic change, potentially adding more representation to the board, ensuring a better pick to represent more students.

Students like Kyle Berndt, a senior double-majoring in political science and English, said that he sees no apparent issues with Kennedy’s capability to do the job that he was hired to do.

As president, much of Kennedy’s job will entail securing funding for the school, as well as representing the student body as a whole. Berndt said that Kennedy being elected CU president is comparable to a national presidential election in the way that the United States president does not hold a majority of the power compared to an entity like Congress. Much in the same way, the CU president does not affect much of the day to day life on campus, especially when it comes to diversity initiatives.

Berndt said that demographically, Kennedy does not underrepresent the racial demographics that exist in the school.

According to demographic data from the Institutional Research department of each campus, UCCS has a 64 percent white population, CU Boulder has a 66 percent white population and CU Denver has a 51 percent white population. In each school, Hispanic students are the second most populous racial demographic. These results tend to match Colorado’s demographic trends, with the state being 87 percent white, according to Colorado census data.

Berndt states that despite this, Kennedy has a good track record for diversity, and has had a large international student population in his previous job at UND, implying that Kennedy is no stranger to the need for more diversity on campus.

In an official statement issued on May 2, Reddy said that in Kennedy’s campus tour, Kennedy said that he would conduct a listening tour to learn more about each campus and its students. Reddy continued that some of the beliefs that UCCS values and considers an important part of the school include diversity, excellence in teaching and research, as well as the students’ involvement with strategic planning on campus.

Reddy said that “the incoming president assured [him] in [his] conversation with [Kennedy] last week that he is committed to supporting the work and goals of UCCS and working to increase funding and the overall success of the university.”

Reddy concluded by acknowledging student input and the next task of collectively working together as a student body to communicate UCCS’ beliefs and values to the system’s new leadership.