Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy (Shawna Noel Schill / University of North Dakota)

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy is the sole finalist in the University of Colorado's system search.

The Board of Regents voted unanimously to choose Kennedy as the finalist during a special board meeting Wednesday morning.

Kennedy, a Republican, has been president of the University of North Dakota since March 2016. He announced yesterday that he was leaving to take a position in Colorado.

He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for his home state of Minnesota. Before that, he worked for the Pillsbury Company and as a senior executive for Federated Department Stores, now known as Macy's.

"Mark Kennedy was an easy choice," said Board of Regents Chair Sue Sharkey, R-District 4. "We got the trifecta."

Sharkey said she personally was looking for a candidate with a background in business, politics and higher education. Kennedy checks all of the boxes, with time spent as a professor and administrator at George Washington University, in Congress, and in business.

Kennedy visited all of the CU system campuses "incognito," Sharkey said, and was able to demonstrate an understanding of both CU and Colorado higher education.

While at the University of North Dakota, she said he taught classes and spent time with students on campus. He also handled state cuts to the university system's budget.

Sharkey said that experience is reassuring to her, because she wants a leader who can make tough budget decisions if issues with funding arise.


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While Kennedy is a Republican, Sharkey said he demonstrated in his career an ability to work across the aisle and reach bipartisan decisions.

"That political background really is important in this position," as he'll have to work with Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, and the Democratic majority in both state legislative chambers.

Regent Linda Shoemaker, D-District 2, which includes Boulder, said she was concerned when she learned that the six candidates recommended to the board included four academics and two formerly elected representatives who are both Republican.

However, Shoemaker said that after researching Kennedy and interviewing him, she believes he will work in a bipartisan way.

"He told us that one of his first calls would be to our Democratic governor," she said. "I believe he'll be able to work closely with Gov. Polis."

Shoemaker said she's impressed by Kennedy, who has "a unique combination of skills that I personally was looking for."

"Someone who has been a moderate politician, has been a business leader at the highest levels and now has a terrific amount of experience in higher education" was her criteria, she said. "I think that our public will be impressed with his sense of humor, his willingness to work across the aisle and his caring about our campuses and the campus communities."

Kennedy is scheduled to visit the University of Colorado Boulder campus on April 26. Further details were not immediately available.

Due to Colorado Open Records law, the finalists for this position have to be publicly known for 14 business days. The regents will hold a special meeting after the 14 days to vote on naming him president.

Scholars have said that naming one finalist raises issues of transparency, as the community should be more involved in the search. The board has named one finalist in at least the last two presidential searches.

Sharkey said they are not going to release the names of the other five candidates recommended by the search committee, as it's a personnel issue.

"With our board, there was no question amongst the nine of us that he was right person for the job," Sharkey said.

Kennedy's contract with the University of North Dakota was renewed through June 2020, according to the Grand Forks Herald. He received a midyear review from his superior, Chancellor Mark Hagerott at the University of North Dakota, in February.

The review was mostly positive and praised Kennedy's focus on attainment and retention efforts. The University of North Dakota system raised its four-year graduation rates by more than 10 percent over the last three years.

One critique said that Kennedy's ability to communicate with various stakeholder groups is "an area of relative need."

Shoemaker said that remark is a surprise to her after interviewing Kennedy. Her impression was that he will be a good fundraiser and advocate for the CU system.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com