Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer University of Colorado presidential finalist Mark Kennedy answers questions during a CU Faculty Council meeting April 22, 2019, at the Warwick Hotel in Denver.

Schedule of Mark Kennedy’s Colorado visits

• University of Colorado Colorado Springs: 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, University Center, Room 116, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway, Colorado Springs.

• University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus: 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Education 2 North, Room 1102, 13120 E. 19th Ave., Aurora.

• University of Colorado Denver: 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Student Commons, Room 2600, 1201 Larimer St., Denver.

• University of Colorado Boulder: 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. Friday, Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St., Boulder

The sole finalist for president of the University of Colorado system held his first public open forum Monday afternoon at the Warwick Hotel in Denver, next to the CU system administration building.

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy was faced with several of the concerns that faculty, students and alumni have voiced since his nomination was announced on April 10.

Kennedy would replace outgoing President Bruce Benson, who is retiring in July.

Kennedy’s nomination, as well as the process that led to it, has prompted protests, open letters and newspaper editorials calling for the Board of Regents to reconsider its choice. The CU community is concerned with his conservative congressional voting record, his statements to the press and the controversial legacy he’s earned during three years at the University of North Dakota.

So far, at least one regent is not impressed.

“I’m disappointed that he didn’t answer some of the questions he should have expected,” said Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder.

University issues

At the open forum for CU administration and the University of Colorado Foundation, Kennedy faced questions about diversity, fundraising and strategic planning.

Chris Bentley, 64, attended the event because his daughter attends University of Colorado Boulder and he lives in the surrounding city.

“I’m not happy with his environmental stance,” Bentley said, referring to Kennedy’s congressional record. He came to the forum with an “open mind” to ask his question.

When he asked Kennedy to give an example of how he’s demonstrated leadership in stopping climate change and promoting renewable energy, Kennedy said he replaced an old coal steam plant at the University of North Dakota’s campus with an energy-efficient gas steam plant.

“Climate change is real,” he said.

One of the submitted questions, which were posed by Board of Regents Chair Sue Sharkey, R-Castle Rock, was about Kennedy’s voting record.

Kennedy said he is “fully committed to diversity.”

“I don’t impose my values on anyone else,” he said. “You’ve got a 30-year track record of me doing that.”

He also reiterated examples he’s given in the past, like the University of North Dakota’s adoption of an anti-discrimination policy during his tenure, the expansion of services for LGBTQ students, and how he put four women on his eight-person executive council.

Kennedy was also asked about fundraising and strategic planning. He said he enjoys fundraising because it offers opportunities to help successful people reach their philanthropic goals. He stressed that all leaders across the system need to be involved, and he said he tends to focus on big opportunities for fundraising rather than several small ones.

When speaking about strategic planning, he held up a small, 3-inch-square notebook with “UND” on the front.

“My plans are typically concrete and concise,” he said. Kennedy said he would set up goals for the system and figure out how each campus fit into those goals. Importantly, he said, the plan would be “put together not by me, by us.”

Unfair questions

Kennedy was also asked if he felt it was fair for people to question his congressional voting record, and if he would vote differently today.

“Do I think it’s fair? No,” he said, adding that he’s already said he would vote differently on same-sex marriage, though he didn’t mention other issues the audience member had asked about, including access to abortion and stem cell research.

Ash Mechtley, a CU system staff member who is on the integrations team, asked Kennedy for concrete examples of his work to be inclusive of LGBTQ communities.

He again talked about the additional programming and staff, as well as the welcome packets and awards ceremonies that the University of North Dakota now runs.

Mechtley, who is transgender and uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” said they weren’t satisfied with Kennedy’s answers.

“He definitely talks like a politician and he definitely talks around the question,” they said after the forum.

Mechtley said they were looking for examples of how Kennedy furthered protections for the LGBTQ community, but felt he responded by saying there are already protections in place.

Perhaps that’s fine in North Dakota, where the LGBTQ community is small, they said, but the community is far larger in Colorado and requires a plan. Mechtley said they chose to work at CU because it was such a welcoming institution for them.

If Kennedy were to be named president, Mechtley said: “I think I would just keep my fingers crossed that the protections he said were already there . . . stayed in place.”

“Is it time to abort?”

Kennedy met with the CU system Faculty Council following his forum at the Warwick Hotel. While the meeting wasn’t advertised to the public, some members of the media were allowed to attend.

Council Chair Joanne Addison began the meeting with a straight shot, saying that his candidacy has created a lot of negative press, which prompted the group to try to answer one question: “Does the controversy your candidacy has generated create too much of a liability?”

Faculty questioned Kennedy first on his fundraising abilities. Addison brought up his mid-year review from North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott, who said that Kennedy’s ability to connect with stakeholders was “an area of relative need,” according to a Grand Forks Herald story.

“Each state has its own personality,” Kennedy replied, adding that he needs advisors on his team at University of North Dakota to help him engage according to North Dakotans’ sensibilities.

Addison also asked if he signed the Pomona Letter, which was signed by several universities and sent to President Donald Trump regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients.

At first, Kennedy didn’t know what the letter was, and then clarified to say he knew there was a letter going around regarding DACA.

But, he said, University of North Dakota has so few DACA recipients that he didn’t sign onto the letter.

“Is it really going to influence President Trump or his actions?” he said.

Robert Ferry, chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, talked about how one humanities professor at University of North Dakota said the liberal arts have been “decimated” since Kennedy took office.

Kennedy said the liberal arts were “plugged into” his strategic plan, but couldn’t provide a concrete example to Addison.

Addison also said that liberal arts faculty members at University of North Dakota feared retaliation under his presidency. When asked what he would attribute that to, Kennedy said: “I have no idea” and that the question was not specific enough.

Addison said the council couldn’t provide a specific example because many of the faculty members at the University of North Dakota didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation.

Lindsay Roberts, who works at CU Boulder, asked what Kennedy did when Trump proposed changing the definition of gender. CU chancellors prioritized a statement on the issue.

Kennedy said it was “unfair” to ask that question because North Dakota was far more pro-Trump than Colorado, and opposing Trump could have made working with the Legislature more difficult.

He also argued that signing a letter wouldn’t have an effect.

“I would argue it had a huge affect on our community to see the leadership in diversity and inclusion,” Addison said regarding the chancellors’ statements. “How could that not have an effect? How could that not be important?”

Addison also asked about a concept in Kennedy’s book, “Shapeholders,” which says it is sometimes better to avert conflict to maintain or improve political standing.

“Have we reached a point where you would advise an organization to avert your candidacy?” she asked.

Kennedy said no, and that his controversial past votes won’t affect his job. However, Addison said it’s not always possible to leave politics at the door on issues like diversity, which can be difficult politically.

“When I say, ‘Checking my politics at the door,’ it means I’m going to lead with the university’s politics,” Kennedy said, adding that signing the Pomona Letter would be one example, as DACA is a more relevant issue in Colorado.

Shoemaker, the regent from Boulder, said it may be time for the regents to take up one of Addison’s questions.

“Is it time to abort?” she said.

However, Shoemaker is still expecting a split vote with the majority Republican board. One Republican would have to vote against Kennedy’s appointment to bring the search back to the drawing board.

“I certainly don’t expect that to happen,” Shoemaker said.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212,

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