State Board of Higher Education Chairman Don Morton says the North Dakota University System is not forcing UND President Mark Kennedy to resign as he waits to hear about a job opportunity.
Kennedy is the sole finalist for the presidency at the University of Colorado and would oversee four campuses in the system. There is a 14-day waiting period before the CU Board of Regents takes a final vote.
Although Kennedy has not formally resigned, a letter sent to him Friday by NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott said the school has accepted his “de facto notice of resignation” based on a statement Kennedy sent to the university community. In the statement, Kennedy said he is “excited for this new opportunity, but sorry to leave UND.”
Kennedy responded Saturday with a letter to Hagerott, saying he has not yet resigned.
Morton said he is unsure what the intent was behind Hagerott’s letter. He also said he isn’t sure if a resignation would save taxpayers from covering a buyout should Kennedy not receive an offer from CU.
“I think the chancellor wants to do what’s right and I think he just thought things were moving along faster,” Morton said. “I’m sure he didn’t think (the letter) would become a public record so fast -- it was a personal email, which means someone sent it to someone in the media. Regardless, we are going to wait and see what happens.”
Hagerott would not speak to the Herald Monday. As chancellor, he works for the State Board of Higher Education, led by Morton.
Kennedy, who became president at UND in 2016, was a finalist last year for the presidency at the University of Central Florida. Some have expressed concern for what they say appears to be an eagerness to leave UND, although Morton said he sees it differently.
He said it is a compliment to the search committee that UND brought in talent that other schools want to recruit. He said Kennedy is responsible for his own career path and should test the marketplace if he wants to look at other opportunities.
Morton feels Kennedy will be welcomed back to UND if he’s not offered the position in Colorado.
“I think there’s a very vocal minority -- the negative people are always very vocal,” he said. “But I know there’s a very strong support group, too. And we’re just going to do what’s right. He’s got a contract. We’re going to honor that contract. We’re going to maintain our integrity.”
Kennedy’s most recent contract was signed Aug. 13, 2018, both by Kennedy and Hagerott. It is in effect from July 1, 2018, through June 20, 2020, and includes specifics on his annual salary ($365,000) and other benefits. It includes two special conditions: Use of a state vehicle or mileage reimbursement for business use of a personal vehicle, and a requirement that he reside in the residence provided for the UND president.
There are no conditions written in the contract for either side to break the agreement nor are there specifics for advance notice of contract termination.
Last week, the Herald asked Kennedy if he may be breaking his contract with UND if he leaves for the job in Colorado.
“I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t think by anybody’s judgment I would be breaking a contract. Nor would I believe there would be any grounds to say that from a legal perspective,” he said. “That said, I’m not a lawyer. If it were something that is not acceptable, I’m quite confident the University of Colorado would not be comfortable with this path.”
Morton said forcing Kennedy’s hand in resignation would make the school unappealing to future candidates.
“We want what’s best for President Kennedy and we want what’s best for UND. … If we don’t treat him right, we will not have a great slate of candidates,” he said.