AURORA, Colo. -- It’s official. UND President Mark Kennedy has been named the next president of the University of Colorado system.
The CU Board of Regents voted 5-4 Thursday afternoon to name Kennedy to the position.
Kennedy was the sole finalist for the job, which oversees more than 67,000 students on four campuses in Aurora, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver. He will take over for outgoing President Bruce Benson.
The regents’ decision comes after weeks of controversy surrounding Kennedy’s nomination, including protests and petitions asking the regents to reconsider.
Kennedy’s departure from UND was reportedly met with cheers from students across campus in Grand Forks, while many students, faculty and staff in Colorado were upset by his ensuing arrival.
Kennedy, who was in Colorado for the vote, told the Herald he is excited to work with the University of Colorado. He added he also looks forward to helping the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education and North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott find an interim president to take over after June 15, which will be his final day at UND.
Kennedy’s appointment did not come easily.
Last week, Kennedy visited each of the system campuses. During nearly all of the visits, students and faculty protested Kennedy, as well as the regents’ decision to reveal a sole finalist.
Kennedy, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007, faced a barrage of questions about his congressional voting record during each stop. The CU Faculty Council also came out against Kennedy, alleging he misrepresented accomplishments on his resume.
During the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, every commenter spoke out against Kennedy, asking the regents to find a candidate who more closely reflects the views of students, faculty and staff at CU.
Kennedy said he already has reached out to all nine regents in Colorado, including those who voted against him, to “start charting the path for the future.” He also said he would meet with CU Faculty Council members, who after the vote asked the CU board to consider starting a transition plan as Kennedy’s tenure begins.
“Unity is the order of the day,” he said. “I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning and engaging and now is the time to build bridges and earn trust.”
The regents also approved Kennedy’s three-year contract during the meeting. He is poised to get a significant pay bump from his current base salary of $365,000 at UND. In his first year in Colorado, Kennedy is set to make $650,000; that number goes up in the final two years of the contract to $850,000.
Kennedy’s contract also details pay incentives of up to $200,000 in his first year if he initiates a strategic planning process across the system, engages in outreach on behalf of rural communities in the state, reaches out to government leaders, donors and CU alumni, and if he forms shared governance organizations that support diversity and inclusion within the system.
The contract also includes $80,000 in moving expenses and other perks, such as a suite at Folsom Field for football games.
Many in North Dakota wished Kennedy well and noted it is now time for UND to move on to its presidential search.
“I think Kennedy won,” said state Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks. “But I also think UND won because there’s been a cloud hanging over us during this last month. We’re both winners.”
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott wished Kennedy well in his new endeavor and thanked him for his work at UND.
“We look forward to seeing students succeed in their chosen area of study and the university continue to flourish with each progressive year,” Hagerott said in a prepared statement.
In a statement, the university said it “would like to wish President Kennedy and First Lady Debbie Kennedy all the best as they embark on an exciting new chapter with the CU System.”
Former Gov. Ed Schafer, who served as interim president at UND before Kennedy arrived, cautioned people who want to move on quickly from Kennedy and his time at UND.
“I think the most important thing for us now at UND is to be careful not to start all over again,” he said, noting there are some areas, like strategic planning, where Kennedy did well.
“He has moved the university in the right direction and I hope that we can continue to build on that rather than stepping back three years and starting all over again,” Schafer said.
Now work begins to fill Kennedy’s role.
SBHE chair Don Morton said Kennedy’s contract will be considered “done” after Kennedy officially resigns. The board will now have to work alongside the university to fill the open position.
Morton said the faculty and staff, along with Hagerott and many others, all have some input into the search process. He added the search process can sometimes be long in academia, as some of the best candidates may not be able to immediately leave their jobs in the middle of the school year.
“The best transition for higher ed is that someone fulfills their current contract, finishes the academic year and then starts the new academic year at their new spot,” he said.