Arrested between Old Posts and New: One President launches Rocky Job Search

Jesse Trelstad, Grand Forks Herald

Mark Kennedy was elected president of the University of North Dakota just three years ago.

In July 2016, Mark Kennedy, a former Republican conference from Minnesota, began a new post as president of the University of North Dakota. Less than three years later, Kennedy was named as an individual competitor to lead the University of Colorado system.

But there is a controversy over the contesting of a controversy about the voting record of the Kennedy conference – in particular its support for bills to prevent abortion and to cancel same-sex marriage. Students on the University of Colorado campuses have already begun to challenge Kennedy's candidacy, which will not be completed until later this month.

The news about Kennedy's prospective job has raised some students and faculty in his current college, as well as higher education officials in North Dakota. The chancellor has said in the state system of the state that he is making Kennedy's announcement as a de facto resign.

“I hope the vote will go on it. He will have a terrible time if he falls. ”

Kennedy dilemma is rare but it is not incredible because of its brief and sometimes stormy tenure in North Dakota, including its failure last year to become president of the University of Central Florida, and about the secret search process in Colorado. If it does not reach the job in Colorado, it may be impossible to go back to Grand Forks, where the main campus is located.

North Dakotans are “not forfeited cheek,” said Paul Todhunter, professor of geography and chair of the University Senate. “I hope the vote goes on,” he said. “He'll have a terrible time if he falls.”

A Rocky Start in Colorado

It may have shocked the people of Colorado to be in Kennedy's notice than in North Dakota. Like an increasing number of college leaders, it has been appointed through a rigorous process of control which has given staff, staff and students a great deal of input or insights into the process.

A search committee of 15 members, headed by two of nine Colorado vendors of a system, included faculty members from each of the four campuses of the system, one staff member, a student, two alumni, and three members of the public. This group canceled the names of six competitors who were then sent to the agents.

Kennedy was the unanimous choice of having “trifecta”: experience in business, politics, and higher education, Sue Sharkey, chair of players, said in an interview.

“He had a very strong knowledge of higher education throughout the country and what is going on in our universities,” Sharkey said.

The players could choose two or more candidates to run open forums on campus, Sharkey said. Instead, Kennedy is the only presenter in five open sessions this month before the players decide whether to offer him the job formally.

He is already trying to reduce the controversy during his time in the US House of Representatives. From 2001 to 2007, Kennedy built a reputation for working with Democrats on a number of issues. But he voted in favor of the 2004 bill to amend the Constitution and prevent same-sex marriage. And he committed himself to the anti-abortion cause, including voting against the 2005 attempt to increase embryonic stem cell research.

Kennedy said that his views on same-sex marriage have changed since then. “Students, staff, staff and members of our community, whether they love or know them, will be fully supported and respected,” Kennedy wrote in an open letter to the University community Colorado.

On stem cell research, Kennedy said that he fully supports academic freedom and shared governance, and will leave decisions on campus research.

Sharkey said that Kennedy answered “very serious questions” about these issues during the interview process. “The controversial votes discussed openly, directly and honestly to the satisfaction of the nine players were discussed,” she said.

While students are making objections, faculty leaders have stated that the search committee should include one of the principal campus diversity officers, according to a letter from the Faculty Council of the system. They also urged the reactions to make the rest of the process “as transparent as possible,” keeping plenty of time for questions during Kennedy's community forums.

Kennedy should also be required to make a written statement that would support the principles of shared governance of the system and should be responsible for “taking personal responsibility for ensuring an equitable and inclusive climate for all members of our community.” T

Cold Shoulders in North Dakota

Students and faculty members in Grand Forks said they knew that Kennedy did not have a long tenure on campus. But this was not done for them better.

“Many people knew he would not have been here for 10 years when he came to North Dakota University,” said Erik Hanson, senior accounting and political scientist who is president of the student government. “No one expected it to be less than three years,” he said.

Even in that short time, Kennedy was able to make some improvements at university, starting with a new strategic plan, called UND, which Hanson said.

For example, the university has begun to focus on long-term problems, improving four-year degree rates and finding ways to pay for deferred maintenance at many campus buildings.

By the time the new strategic plan was in place, North Dakotans began to intensify Kennedy due to budget cuts, including women's hockey and other programs. But 18 months into his period, Kennedy announced that he was among the candidates considered to be in charge of Central Florida University.

“He was probably looking for a job that was longer-term and he likes,” said Todhunter, “where he could do what he wanted and have some influence on him.” T

The rest of his short tenure is often reflected in state budget cuts, a debt to one of the most generous donors in the university, and, later, a huge rise in employee working remotely from the state. .

Many of those things were out of Kennedy's control, Todhunter said. But the battles with the system office and state legislators were also part of the problem, he said, because it is difficult for someone outside of North Dakota to understand the very close nature of his politics.

In an interview with him The Chronicle, Kennedy said he was happy in North Dakota and felt he was well connected with other higher education leaders and elected officials.

“The University of North Dakota is a great university,” he said. “What drew me to Colorado: It's one of the best universities in the world. I see that I have a better chance of influencing the University of Colorado. ”

Eric Murphy, associate professor of biomedical sciences, was the faculty representative on North Dakota Higher Education State Board when Kennedy was employed and qualified at the time.

He continues to give credit to him for the strategic plan, but he says Kennedy failed the kind of leadership required by the university.

“The faculty and staff were looking for an approachable leader who would have been correcting negative morale too long here for a long time,” said Murphy. “What we need at UND is someone dealing with the troops. This is not the kind of leadership that Mark provided. ”

Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including areas such as state policy, accreditation and legal affairs. You can get it on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at


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