Mark Kennedy’s tenure at UND could be nearing its end.
Multiple sources said Tuesday that rumors about Kennedy’s departure are swirling at the Capitol in Bismarck. Meanwhile, higher-education officials in Bismarck and at UND declined to comment when asked to verify the rumors.
Kennedy, president of UND since 2016, is rumored to be in line for a higher education position in Colorado.
“It’s all over the Capitol,” Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, said.
Martinson said UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo is rumored to become acting president if Kennedy leaves.
When asked if the president plans to resign to take a position elsewhere, Meloney Linder, vice president for marketing and communications at UND, said the university has no comment.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott also refused to comment Tuesday morning when asked about Kennedy’s future at UND.
State Board of Higher Education vice chairman Nick Hacker said he had heard about some conversations regarding the matter but deferred comment to the university.
“We’re unaware of any resignation at this time, but would defer to the University of North Dakota and Mark Kennedy,” he said. “We’re supportive of our president and their leadership and supportive of President Kennedy continuing to serve at UND as president.”
State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, also said he has heard the rumor in Bismarck, but added he had not heard of any formal resignation yet.
The University of Colorado is in the process of hiring its next president, and its Board of Regents will hold a special meeting Wednesday morning in Denver to discuss the search. The president of the University of Colorado has a similar role to the University of Minnesota’s president and oversees a system of four campuses.
Current president Bruce Benson is retiring from the school after 11 years. The search to replace him garnered many candidates. In March, the search was narrowed down to 10 candidates, according to reports by the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. Finalists for the job have not been named.
According to Colorado law, finalists’ names must be public for 14 days before a person is appointed president of an institution.
The Herald editorial board was expecting to meet with Kennedy Tuesday afternoon, but that meeting was canceled by the university in the morning.
In February, UND reiterated to the Herald that Kennedy, at that time, had no interest in jobs outside the university, addressing rumors that had been circulating about him applying for the University of Minnesota president’s job. Kennedy had previously told the Herald in December he did not apply for the position.
Steve Burian, co-chair of the Valley Prosperity Partnership, has worked closely with Kennedy over the past several months as they, along with North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani, crafted a legislative proposal for more state-funded research dollars at the schools.
“I really like President Kennedy from my perspective. I’ve gone on record before as saying I think he was the right man for the right time,” he said.
Burian praised Kennedy for his work on UND’s strategic plan, which is aimed at making improvements to several key areas of campus by 2022, including increasing graduation rates, becoming more military friendly and growing research work on campus.
“I think he did a good job of rallying people to understand that the strategic plan was more than just something on paper, but it was something that they planned to execute,” Burian said. “I think in the time he’s been here he’s done a really good job of following through on his strategies.”
In February 2019, UND announced significant growth in students’ four-year graduation rate, from 23 percent in 2008 to 36 percent in 2018. UND wanted to raise its four-year graduation rate to 34 percent by 2022, according to its strategic plan.
Kennedy also has worked to grow research dollars coming to the university and during his tenure UND jumped from 170th to 151st in research rankings, according to the National Science Foundation’s most recent report.
If Kennedy were to leave the university, Burian said it would “obviously be a hit” but not “irreparable” for the school. Burian said if Kennedy is to leave the university, he hopes that a serious and diligent effort is made to find a solid replacement.
“The president of UND is a critical position for UND, Grand Forks, the region and the state,” he said.
This is not the first time Kennedy has been rumored to be leaving the university.
In February 2018, Kennedy was announced as one of four finalists to be president at the University of Central Florida. Kennedy ultimately was not offered the position. That position is also open again, after Dale Whittaker was forced to resign amid a spending scandal. An interim president has been appointed to lead UCF until 2020. Kennedy said in February 2019 that he was not interested in the position when it opened up again.
Kennedy has been in office amid several major changes at the university, including finalization of the nickname change, major budget cuts to the university system and the cut of the women’s hockey team.
During Kennedy’s tenure as president, the university system budget has been cut by about a third. The budget cuts led to hundreds of jobs lost at the university.
The campus itself has also gotten smaller since Kennedy took the helm, with the demolition of more than a dozen buildings since 2016 as the university works to cut deferred maintenance costs.
Kennedy was also in charge amid several athletics changes.
He oversaw a significant move of conference affiliation for a majority of the school’s programs. On Jan. 26, 2017, UND officially announced a move from the Big Sky Conference to the more regionally based Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference.
UND’s $1.3 million athletic budget shortfall and an anticipated cut in state funding came to a head March 29, 2017, when UND announced it would no longer sponsor women’s hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.