McFeely: No worries, UND, Kennedy will get Colorado university job

Colorado university system Board of Regents is highly political, and UND president has the proper letter behind his name

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy answers questions during a 2106 meeting with the Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

It'd be kind of cool if college students could bring down a powerful college presidential candidate, because that'd be so 1960s. But, sorry to say, the smart money still has to be on the Republicans in Colorado.

Mark Kennedy's ultra-conservative voting record as a Republican congressman from Minnesota in the 2000s has some Colorado student groups in an uproar. The University of North Dakota president is the lone finalist for the presidency of the University of Colorado system, encompassing four schools with a total budget of $4.5 billion, and there are those at the ultra-liberal main campus in Boulder who are appalled at Kennedy's opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

Colorado is a robust two-party state, purple in political parlance (red plus blue), and so liberals who strongly support LGBTQ rights and a woman's right to choose are planning a protest march in Boulder. They've also been bombarding members of the UC system's Board of Regents with emails, social media messages and newspaper columns protesting the selection of Kennedy as the lone finalist.

This has many UND backers nervous. Not because they are scared Kennedy's prospect of getting a huge promotion with an annual salary in the $750,000 range is in jeopardy and they feel badly for him, but because they are afraid he won't get the job and they might be stuck with him in Grand Forks.

(Listen to a podcast of Mike McFeely speaking with Boulder Daily Camera reporter Madeline St. Amour about the Mark Kennedy kerfuffle below.)


Although, North Dakota University System chancellor Mark Hagerott may have done them a favor. He essentially told Kennedy to take a long walk off a short mountain trail late last week by writing the president a Dear Mark letter.

Prediction: While pleasurable for Hagerott to snip Kennedy's North Dakota employment lifeline, it won't matter. Kennedy's getting the Colorado job.

It'd be fun to be wrong, but it's as simple as party politics. The Colorado system's nine-member Board of Regents is partisan, and openly so. Those who want a spot on the board run political campaigns as Democrats or Republicans and are elected by a vote of citizens. Seven members are elected to represent Colorado's seven Congressional districts and two are elected on the statewide ballot as at-large members.

Here's the key for Kennedy: Republicans hold a 5-4 majority on the board. So even if all the Democrats vote against Kennedy's appointment as the system president — after he was enthusiastically named as the lone finalist on a 9-0 vote — Kennedy still gets the job.

History is on Kennedy's side, too. Kennedy is the fourth potential president to be named as a lone finalist; the previous three all got the job. That includes the current president, conservative Republican Bruce Benson. An oil and gas magnate who was the Colorado Republican Party chairman, his appointment was protested by Boulder liberals — and he got the job on a 6-3 party-line vote. Benson's had the job for 11 years.

Kennedy is no Benson. He's not nearly as sharp, accomplished or wealthy. But he is a Republican and, in this case, that's all that matters. Rest easy, UND. He's gone.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
What To Read Next
Get Local