More Questions on Colorado Finalist

Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist to lead the University of Colorado system, finds himself on the receiving end of a tweet by the governor suggesting that it may be time for another candidate.

April 19, 2019
 
Rally Against Mark Kennedy/CU Boulder Facebook page
Participants at an April 15 rally protesting Mark Kennedy's candidacy to lead the University of Colorado system

Colorado governor Jared Polis on Thursday weighed in on the controversy surrounding the state Board of Regents' pick to lead the University of Colorado system, suggesting that board members should find someone to replace University of North Dakota president Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist for the job.

A Republican former Minnesota congressman, Kennedy has led North Dakota since 2016, but his party-line GOP voting record in Congress from 2001 to 2007 has given some Coloradans -- including at least one Democratic board member -- second thoughts on his candidacy. Regents chose him April 10 as the sole candidate for the post and could issue a final vote on his nomination as early as next week.

In a Thursday morning tweet, Polis, a Democrat who is Colorado’s first openly gay governor, said, “It's very important that they find a candidate that unites the board. It’s never good for a candidate or the institution if the board is split on a decision of this magnitude.” Polis ended with the hashtag #copolitics.

Ken McConnellogue, the CU system’s spokesman, said in response, "We look forward to the next steps in the process when the university community and Coloradans will get to hear from Mark Kennedy, beginning Monday," The Denver Post reported. "The governor will be one of the first stops on his itinerary next week."

Five of the nine elected regents are Republicans; the other four are Democrats. It's not immediately clear how they will vote on Kennedy's nomination. By law, they are required to allow 14 days before acting on it further.

One regent, Democrat Lesley Smith, has said regents didn’t discuss Kennedy's voting record during his interview, but that he discussed his support for gay people while answering a question on diversity. The board was satisfied with his answer, but Smith said she is "getting a lot of pushback from constituents" on Kennedy's congressional voting record.

She tweeted last week, "Some information about Mark has come to light that is concerning; my colleagues and I will be exploring this further."

Smith did not respond to a request for an interview, but speaking at a meeting of Boulder Progressives on Thursday, she said Kennedy would have "lots of chances to talk about things that are issues with the community," the Boulder Daily Camera reported.

During an interview Wednesday with Colorado Public Radio, Kennedy wavered when asked his thoughts on affirmative action in college admissions. The interviewer noted the U.S. Education Department's demand that Texas Tech University's medical school stop considering race in admissions. Kennedy said he hadn’t “wrestled with that at the university yet.” He added, after a hesitation, “Can I just not answer that question?”

He later told the interviewer, “I apologize. You caught me off guard there. I think however we do admissions, it has to be done in a way to recognize that diversity provides a benefit to all, and there are many ways of doing it. Each university needs to wrestle with it in its own way, but making sure that we have an admissions policy that is embracing a diverse population of students and giving each the benefit of understanding each other.”

Kennedy later told The Denver Post that he stumbled on the answer because he believed he was going to be late to a meeting, which “I did end up being late for,” he said. “My concern was the time to get to my next meeting.” He told the Post that he believes affirmative action policies can’t give “undue benefit or undue penalty” to applicants. Kennedy also said he wasn’t familiar with the Texas Tech admissions matter. He said colleges “can use holistic review processes or admissions that factor in things like race or first-generation college applicants in a nonprescriptive way.”

Kennedy added that at North Dakota, the medical school looks for rural applicants and those with Native American heritage, since this is the area’s largest minority population.

Kennedy is scheduled to visit all four of the Colorado system’s campuses next week, the Daily Camera reported. As the visit draws near, several groups, including faculty groups, are expected to weigh in on his candidacy with petitions, protests and resolutions.

The regents met in private on Tuesday, the newspaper reported, but didn’t vote or issue any official statements. McConnellogue, the system spokesman, said, "It's interesting to me that groups want to pass resolutions without hearing from the guy. They base a lot of this on things that happened 13-plus years ago, without hearing what he has to say about it."

In an interview with the Daily Camera, Kennedy said, "I understand there's a lot of passionate people. I also know that CU has a tradition of open and honest discussion, and I hope I'm given the opportunity to discuss these issues and that they'll maintain an open mind when I come to campus."

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