Mark Kennedy’s time as UND president concludes today.
Beginning July 1, Kennedy will take over as president of the University of Colorado system, where he will oversee campuses from Denver.
Kennedy was president for 1,079 days, one of the shortest tenures in UND history.
He leaves behind a campus that looks quite different in infrastructure and staffing since he arrived on July 1, 2016. New buildings have been added to campus, while others have been torn down. Following a national trend, on-campus numbers have decreased since Kennedy arrived, but the four-year graduation rate has increased and the university’s online presence has grown.
UND spokesman David Dodds said Kennedy’s time at UND has “been one focused on moving UND forward, guided by the One UND strategic plan.”
“By working closely with campus and community stakeholders, he was able to help ignite many positive outcomes regarding student success, campus renewal, growth in research and preparations that make UND even more future-ready to better adapt to a rapidly changing world,” Dodds said in a statement.
Dodds said under Kennedy’s leadership, UND has improved its four-year graduation rate by 10 percentage points, increased its research expenditures to more than $100 million and invested hundreds of millions in campus renewal, with minimal state funds. The university has upgraded its website to be mobile-friendly, instituted a new incentive-based budget model to be “more strategic and nimble with budget allocations and revenue opportunities” and been a leader in the use of open educational resources, according to Dodds.
“These are but a few accomplishments the campus community advanced under President Kennedy’s leadership,” he said.
Dodds said the university wishes Kennedy and his family luck as they head west to Colorado.
“On the occasion of their last day at UND, the University would like to wish President Kennedy and first lady Debbie Kennedy all the best as they embark on an exciting new chapter with the University of Colorado System,” Dodds said.
When speaking with the Herald about his departure in April, Kennedy said the position is a “positive reflection” on the work of faculty and staff at UND.
“This is really a very positive reflection on the University of North Dakota because there’s no way I would have been given this opportunity had it not been for all the great things the team here, in collaboration with our community and state partners, have advanced,” he said.
He’ll make $650,000 his first year in office in Colorado, with an additional $200,000 in incentive pay available to him. He made $365,000 a year in North Dakota.
Kennedy’s time at UND has not been without criticism and controversy. Kennedy dealt with significant budget reductions in recent bienniums, which led to the loss of hundreds of jobs and various programs being cut. The women’s hockey team also was cut during Kennedy’s tenure and the university’s decision to tear down dozens of campus buildings has seen some backlash.
Kennedy also was publicly scorned by philanthropist Kris Engelstad McGarry, whose family donated the Ralph Engelstad Arena and has given millions of dollars to UND. Earlier this year, she said the family will not donate directly to the university while Kennedy is president.
In March 2018, Kennedy was announced as a finalist for the president’s position at the University of Central Florida. He was ultimately not chosen for the position, but the pursuit of the job left many upset at UND and in the Grand Forks community.
In February, Kennedy walked back a decision to allow Chief of Staff Angelique Foster to work remotely from Texas. Foster, who accompanied Kennedy from his previous post at George Washington University, was given a title change and a pay raise last fall, shortly before announcing she would be leaving UND. Foster was going to stay on as chief of staff and work remotely from Texas, but following public pressure, Kennedy changed that decision.
The controversy was magnified in April after Kennedy was announced as the sole finalist for the Colorado position when speaking to a reporter from the Boulder Daily Camera. In the interview, he claimed the reason the article got so much attention was because “some people couldn’t understand how a young African-American woman from the South could be as qualified and worthy.” Kennedy later clarified that he understood “there were many factors that people considered” about the Foster controversy.
The Herald reached out to various state and community leaders to get their thoughts on Kennedy’s presidency at UND. Here are some of their responses:
Former Gov. Ed Schafer said Kennedy's strategic plan has helped put UND in the right direction for the future of the university. Schafer said before Kennedy got to UND there was a fair bit of controversy over things like the nickname and logo change, as well as instability in the budget from year-to-year.
"(The strategic plan) stabilized the university and made it so strategically we know where were going in the future," he said.
Rep. Jake Blum, R-Grand Forks, represents District 42, which encompasses nearly all of the UND campus.
“It’s fair to say that the vision of Mark Kennedy’s presidency was bold and visionary, which is exemplified by the strategic plan, which he leaves as his legacy,” Blum said in an email to the Herald. “Unfortunately, it was also marred by his inability to forge positive relationships with UND’s major stakeholders ranging from donors, to faculty, to policy-makers. In this regard, it leaves one wondering what could have been.”
Birgit Pruess is the outgoing faculty representative on the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education. Pruess served on the board for a majority of Kennedy’s UND career. Pruess praised Kennedy’s work to increase online and distance education, but Pruess notes that Kennedy also alienated a lot of people on campus. However, Pruess said Kennedy has always been very respectful to her and other board members.
“I think he may be one of those people who may be low in emotional intelligence relative to conventional intelligence,” she said. “He may not always notice that he’s stepped onto someone’s feet.”