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Fundraising, donor relations raised as issue of CU system presidential finalist

Mark Kennedy faced several disagreements with donors while at UND

BOULDER, CO – APRIL 26:University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist for president of the University of Colorado system, speaks during an open forum at Macky Auditorium in Boulder on April 26, 2019.
(Photo by Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – APRIL 26:University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist for president of the University of Colorado system, speaks during an open forum at Macky Auditorium in Boulder on April 26, 2019. (Photo by Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

As criticism of the sole CU system presidential finalist mounts regarding his political ideology and his tenure in academia, others are putting the focus on money.

Some regents have hailed University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy as the right choice for CU given his “trifecta” of experience in business, higher education and politics, saying those experiences would help him as a fundraiser, one of the most important roles of a CU president.

But some question his ability to fundraise following several public falling-outs with major donors at North Dakota, as well as his ability to garner the level of support needed as CU continues to compensate for diminished state funding, especially since fundraising at that university during Kennedy’s tenure was only a fraction of CU fundraising in the same time frame.

The Board of Regents is expected to vote on whether to name Kennedy president at 1 p.m. Thursday at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Fundraising leaders

Colorado is ranked 48th in the nation for higher education funding, and CU received just under 5% of its 2019 funding from the state, according to University of Colorado Foundation CEO and President Jack Finlaw.

“Fundraising and philanthropic contributions to CU are really a significant part of how we are dealing with the fact that we have such low funding from the state,” Finlaw said.

CU raised $440.4 million in the 2018 fiscal year, $386.3 million in 2017, and $384.5 million in 2016.

The University of North Dakota raised $34.7 million in 2018, $40 million in 2017 and $33.4 million in 2016. So far this year, it has raised about $33 million. It has also received a pledge for a $20 million donation to help build a new business building, if the state provides matching funds. Kennedy has repeatedly emphasized that this donation would give the university a record fundraising year.

In response to questions about his ability to lead and fundraise for an institution of CU’s size, Kennedy has cited his experience in executive positions at Federated Stores, now Macy’s, and Pillsbury.

Finlaw said he has had positive conversations with Kennedy. He’s also talked with his counterpart at the University of North Dakota Foundation, who said she thinks Kennedy “has been a very effective leader, and she confirmed to me that he has been a very effective fundraiser there,” Finlaw said.

“Mark Kennedy has been an active partner in our efforts to raise funds for the benefit of UND students, faculty and programs,” the Foundation’s CEO, DeAnna Carlson Zink, said in a statement. “His strategic plan has put us on a path to improve the student experience at UND, and I thank him for his leadership. I wish him the best in his new position.”

The UND Foundation “runs very similar to ours,” Finlaw said. “The truth is, they raise a lot of money at the University of North Dakota.”

The CU Foundation has received a “significant amount of feedback” from donors, Finlaw said, which he sees as a positive sign because it means they are engaged, though some have expressed concerns about Kennedy. Some alumni also have signed a petition threatening to reconsider donations or volunteer efforts if Kennedy is appointed president.

However, Finlaw stressed that the chancellors and vice chancellors of advancement at each campus are the ones who set fundraising strategies.

“The president plays a key role primarily in setting the overall tone and strategy for advancement,” he said, later adding that the chancellors “are really the leaders at CU in fundraising. I think that’s where the really thoughtful connection is made between our donors and their philanthropic passion.”

Disgruntled donors

Kennedy has endured several controversies with North Dakota donors, as reported by the Grand Forks Herald.

Kris Engelstad McGarry, the head of the Engelstad Family Foundation, recently spoke about ongoing issues with Kennedy.

In March, she told the Grand Forks Herald that the university would not receive more donations from her foundation until Kennedy resigns. The foundation has awarded more than $300 million in scholarships and grants.

She previously told the paper’s editorial board that “the governance and leadership isn’t there, so our confidence is less than it should be.”

McGarry and Kennedy had a disagreement over a $110 million donation for the Ralph Engelstad Arena, according to the Herald. McGarry said Kennedy didn’t like the original usage agreement, which splits ticket revenues between the university and the arena’s management company.

However, Kennedy has characterized the disagreement as being over a controversial nickname — the “Fighting Sioux” — which was changed to the “Fighting Hawks” after the NCAA required a change. Kennedy said McGarry wanted him to be more forceful in fighting for the name, although McGarry has said that it wasn’t about the nickname.

The university also faced backlash from donors after closing the Ray Richards Golf Course due to budget cuts and plans to sell it and create an endowment for the men’s golf program, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

However, the Richards family spokeswoman, Holly Douglass, in an email to UND Foundation CEO Zink expressed disappointment in the decision.

“There was no question of (Richards’) clear intent when he made this gift, and we, his family, are still upset his golf course was summarily closed by President (Mark) Kennedy without our knowledge or prior consultation,” she said.

While the family seemed satisfied with the idea of an endowment, the school then changed the length of time the endowment would cover, putting the men’s golf program in peril.

The Fore UND Golf Committee, a group that raised money to maintain the golf program, also expressed its displeasure with the decision.