The University of Colorado’s presidential search will come to a head Thursday with a scheduled vote by the Board of Regents on whether to hire Mark Kennedy after weeks of controversy, public-relations mishaps and partisan mudslinging.
CU’s nine elected regents — five Republicans and four Democrats — will decide whether Kennedy succeeds Bruce Benson as the head of the multi-billion-dollar, four-campus CU system at a board meeting at 1 p.m. in Krugman Hall on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
Students and staff are planning a protest outside the hall ahead of the vote, and “airport-like security” will be in place for the meeting, university officials said.
Two Democratic regents already have said publicly that they will vote against Kennedy’s presidency and one Republican regent has stated his full support for the former Republican congressman, decrying smears on Kennedy by the “Far Leftist mob.”
The announcement of Kennedy as the sole finalist to lead the state’s largest university system was mired in contention from Day 1. CU admitted its unveiling was rushed by a report from North Dakota’s Grand Forks Herald newspaper that speculated the University of North Dakota’s president, Kennedy, was seeking another college presidency.
Outrage over Kennedy’s congressional record — he voted against gay marriage and in favor of abortion restrictions while representing Minnesota in the early 2000s — came swiftly. While Kennedy and the university tried to put out those fires — sending an open letter to the CU community about Kennedy’s evolved views on gay marriage and making public rounds to try to win over his potential Colorado community — new blazes popped up.
In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Kennedy asked if he could skip a question about affirmative action. Video surfaced of Kennedy speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, during which he touted the “full-fledged Afro” he had as a teen and claimed it “made him different.”
In a grilling by the CU Faculty Council, which has issued several statements expressing disappointment in the finalist and alleging he committed “ethical misconduct,” Kennedy said he didn’t sign a letter that hundreds of other colleges and universities signed onto supporting undocumented students because he didn’t believe the University of North Dakota had any such students.
A week of touring all four CU campuses culminated in Kennedy being booed and mocked at the Boulder campus by students and faculty, and asked pointed questions about his commitment to diversity, LGBTQ issues and his morals and values.
With campuses and a partisan Board of Regents divided over Kennedy, it’s not yet clear what will come out of Thursday’s special board meeting, which is scheduled to begin with a closed-door executive session and end in a vote.
CU’s outgoing president Benson, who also had a Republican background along with ties to the oil and gas industry, was hired in 2008 in a Board of Regents vote that split along party lines, 6-3.