Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist for president of the University of Colorado system has talked about being a champion of diversity, supporting LGBTQ+ rights and protecting academic freedom, but some in the CU community just don’t believe him.
“As a woman, I’m really tired of white men not apologizing for things they did wrong,” Allie Hoffman, a graduate student in the Colorado School of Public Health, said prior to an open forum with Kennedy Wednesday at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
At the forum, the third during University of North Dakota President Kennedy’s visit this week to Colorado, he faced more criticism from faculty and students who felt his answers to their questions were not genuine.
After listening to Kennedy’s interview last week on Colorado Public Radio, Hoffman said Kennedy would have appeared more genuine if he apologized for his past views and voting record.
While a Republican congressman for Minnesota in the 2000s, Kennedy voted to ban same-sex marriage. He’s since told Colorado media that he would vote differently today. Despite dogged questioning of his stance on LGBTQ+ issues at three open forums, he hasn’t won over everyone.
“This feels like it’s … the politically advantageous thing to say,” Hoffman said.
A small group of School of Medicine students protested briefly after the open forum and spoke with Regent Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder.
“I have increased concerns,” she told the Daily Camera, adding she wasn’t ready to comment on her reasons.
At the time the regents agreed to put Kennedy forward, Shoemaker said she didn’t know about his voting record, the Title IX complaints at the University of North Dakota or a discrimination complaint at George Washington University.
“I believe that Mark Kennedy is a great salesman for himself and his institution,” she said, adding that could be a good thing.
But she said she also is aware that salesmanship might not be reflective of the man. “I know that many people are concerned about his lack of authenticity,” Shoemaker said.
Kennedy on Wednesday was repeatedly asked for specific examples or stories about his current views on controversial issues. One of the moderated questions asked for specific evidence of how his views on LGBTQ rights have changed. He began his answer by pointing out that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in the past also voted to ban same-sex marriage before retelling stories he offered at other forums about making friends with those in the LGBTQ community and learning to be welcoming to others from his mother as a child.
Kris Simon, a first-year student in the School of Medicine, said he is offended that Kennedy cites Obama and Clinton.
“What I wanted to hear most was him saying that he was wrong and why,” Simon said. ” … I want someone to take personal responsibility for their actions.”
When concerns were raised about his voting record being part of press coverage that could deter some from attending CU because they don’t feel safe, Kennedy said he can’t control the press and asked not be judged on his track record from the 2000s, as others aren’t, and reiterated his current commitment and support to diversity.
First-year medical student William Mundo, one of two student senators representing the School of Medicine, commented on Kennedy’s application to be president of the University of Central Florida shortly into his tenure at the University of North Dakota. Kennedy was rejected partly because his political background was deemed to pose too much of a liability.
Mundo asked what ties Kennedy has to Colorado and how he would convince the community he was committed to CU.
Kennedy said he has had wonderful times in Colorado, and rhetorically asked what ties University of California system President Janet Napolitano had to California before winning her position.
He also said he’s had a great time this week in Colorado, to which the audience laughed, “but I’d rather not do this again for another decade or two.” CU will be the capstone of his career, he said.
First-year med school student Simon said he felt Kennedy sounded like he would be a “hands-off” president given his answers.
At several points, Kennedy said other departments or people within the university would handle different issues. For example, when asked if he would advocate to keep abortion coverage in university health care plans, he said, “I’m intent on not going backward at all in where we are in our health plans,” adding such a proposal would come from those who set those plans.
When asked how he might support undergraduate students in the CU College of Nursing, he said that would be up to the chancellors and he doesn’t intend to “micromanage any campuses,” though he would support chancellors in their efforts.
These kinds of answers didn’t “sound encouraging, as a minority and member of the LGBTQ community,” Simon said.
Mundo said CU needs “someone who will be a champion.” Instead, while listening to some of Kennedy’s answers, he wondered, “What is he really going to do?”
“He lacks the genuine courage that we need at the University of Colorado,” he said.
In response to several questions on controversial issues, Kennedy deferred to CU’s current values and policies.
“My values will become the university’s values,” he said, adding he won’t interfere with research or other policies.
Unlike his statements about same-sex marriage, Kennedy has never said he would reverse his past votes on abortion access or stem cell research. He was asked if he supports those things, and did not give direct answers.
When asked what he actually believes about Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients, Kennedy went on to list his pro-immigrant votes while he was a congressman.
“I am committed to inclusivity,” he said in closing the forum. “I am committed to making that a hallmark of this university even more than it is today.”
Mark Kennedy’s remaining Colorado visits
• 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