COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – APRIL 23:University of Colorado presidential candidate Mark Kennedy greets attendees in the University Hall at UCCS in Colorado Springs, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Gazette)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

The sole finalist for University of Colorado system president faced critical questions during his second public open forum Tuesday afternoon at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Mark Kennedy, University of North Dakota president, was questioned on his courage, his views on diversity and how he would support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients.

Kennedy would replace outgoing President Bruce Benson, who is retiring in July. Since he was announced as the Board of Regents’ finalist April 10, he has faced staunch criticism from students, faculty and donors.

There have been protests, open letters and harsh editorials criticizing his conservative congressional voting record, the split legacy he left at the University of North Dakota and his faux pas with local media. A group of CU students have even started a “CU Against Kennedy” website.

One student, who said she and others wore red in protest, brought up comments Kennedy made Monday during a meeting with the Faculty Council following the first open forum for CU system administration. When speaking about his reasons for not signing the Pomona Letter supporting DACA students, Kennedy said: “Is it really going to influence President Trump or his actions?”

The Daily Camera viewed the forum via livestream and could not verify the student’s name.

“How, as a student body, can we trust you to make best decisions for us and not based on what Trump may or may not do?” the student asked Tuesday.

Kennedy said he is happy to sign letters, but he doesn’t believe they have much impact.

“I would prefer to go down to Washington (D.C.) and personally advocate with our Legislature … and be even more aggressive on that issue, rather than just sign a letter,” he said.

‘Addition, not subtraction’

Kennedy began the open forum with a speech similar to the one he gave on Monday. As one of seven children in his family, he worked small jobs and watched his mother somehow hole away the money to send them to college. From there, he went on to work at large companies, before getting elected to U.S. Congress and eventually making his way into higher education.

“I am passionate about the power of higher education to unlock opportunities for individuals, their families and their communities,” he said, adding that is the reason he wanted to work at CU, given its much larger reach than his current position.

A common theme Kennedy repeated throughout the forum was his central leadership principle: “Life is a game of addition, not subtraction,” which he said means people are better off collaborating rather than dividing each other.

It was his answer for what is his definition of diversity.

It was his answer for how he would support diversity at CU. He said he left staff teams at the University of North Dakota and elsewhere more diverse than when he started.

It also was his answer for how he would lobby for more higher education funding. He said he would bring together universities and stakeholders across the state to argue for its importance.

“I am committed and very supportive in doing all that I can to support students, faculty and staff no matter who you love and how you identify,” Kennedy said.

One of the moderated questions presented by Board of Regents Chair Sue Sharkey, R-Castle Rock, asked how Kennedy would support and expand on CU’s work to support the LGBTQ+ community, especially as opportunities are restricted nationally for transgender individuals.

“Our community seeks reassurance that under your leadership, CU will continue moving forward,” Sharkey read.

Kennedy spoke about actions he took at the University of North Dakota, including expanding support services and adding staff, as well as conducting a climate survey and then providing support for instructors to be more inclusive.

‘Lack of courage’

While many of the questions posed to Kennedy and his answers mirrored previous interviews and discussions, some people threw curveballs.

One person in the audience noted the regents said Kennedy’s vetting was rushed and asked if Kennedy would be open to the regents reopening the process and selecting other people to compete with him for the position.

“I will defer any questions about the process to the regents,” he said.

Another asked a follow-up to the student’s question on DACA, asking Kennedy if he went to advocate for DACA at the North Dakota Legislature instead of signing a letter.

“At UND, I’m not aware that we do have DACA students,” he said, adding that he will advocate for DACA students “to the extent it is a priority for CU.”

Heather Nicholson, assistant director for veteran and military affairs at CU Colorado Springs, said she has read everything she could find on Kennedy, and found he often said he was misunderstood in response to criticism.

“I have never read … of a time where you took responsibility for something,” she said. “That shows a lack of courage.”

“I won’t go and talk about accepting responsibility because I’ve always accepted responsibility for my actions,” Kennedy said.

Nicholson also asked for an example of what changed Kennedy’s mind on same-sex marriage.

He responded by speaking about meeting people like Roberto Izurieta, with whom he worked with at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Lurieta is gay, and Kennedy said he saw that Izurieta and his partner “have as much love for each other as I’ve seen with traditional marriage.”

Izurieta has submitted a letter praising Kennedy’s commitment to diversity and openness.

Kennedy also said his mother used to tell him to look for children who didn’t fit in when he went to school, and to make them feel welcome.

“When I reflected on that, I said that’s not consistent with my votes,” he said.

The next open forum will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. The location of the open forums at Anschutz and University of Colorado Denver were both changed to accommodate more people.


Schedule of Mark Kennedy’s Colorado visits

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

• University of Colorado Denver: 3 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center, 1355 12th St., Denver.

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

blog comments powered by Disqus