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Herald report led to rushed release naming Kennedy

UND President Mark Kennedy in his Twamley Hall office. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Reporting early in the week by the Grand Forks Herald prompted the Colorado Board of Regents to rush its announcement that named Mark Kennedy the finalist for the University of Colorado presidency.

The Herald first broke the story Tuesday morning, reporting that rumors were circulating that Kennedy would leave his post as president of UND, presumably for a similar role in Colorado.

Ken McConnellogue, CU system spokesman, told the Herald Friday that the University of Colorado Board of Regents had originally wanted to release Kennedy’s name as finalist for the president’s position later in the week. The Tuesday report by the Herald “hastened” the timeline, he said.

The timeline was the focus of a front-page story published in the Friday edition of the Denver Post.

The rushed announcement, in turn, forced the Colorado Board of Regents to release Kennedy’s name Wednesday, which, according to the Post, caused havoc in the process.

“It’s unfortunate we prematurely had to release his name,” Regent Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder, told the Post, “because we didn’t even have the opportunity for our own staff to do the vetting that we would have expected to be done prior to announcing this finalist.”

Despite the Post’s report Friday, McConnellogue said releasing Kennedy’s name early did not entirely affect the process.

“Not particularly,” he said. “I mean, I would say it’s been portrayed, not by (the Herald), but by some other media that somehow we didn’t have time to discover things about his voting record and that’s not entirely accurate.”

Kennedy was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007. He voted to restrict abortion rights and voted in favor of an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Regent Lesley Smith told the Daily Camera that regents had not explicitly discussed Kennedy’s voting record during his interview and she was not aware of it. She sent out a tweet about Kennedy’s candidacy Wednesday evening and said “my colleagues and I will be exploring this further.”

However, Sue Sharkley, a Republican who represents the fourth congressional district and is head of the board, told the Herald that some of Kennedy’s votes had come up during the interview.

Some issues with Kennedy’s congressional voting record that are pertinent to what his job in Colorado would be were discussed in the interviews, McConnellougue said.

“Some of the issues just aren’t relevant to the job,” he said. “How he votes on gun control is not relevant to the job of university president.”

McConnellogue said the staff and search firm tasked with vetting the candidates was in the process of checking with formal and informal references this week. This included references provided by Kennedy and also people CU “felt it was good to talk to,” he said.

Checking with references is near the end of the vetting process, McConnellogue added.

“It’s kind of like a funnel,” he said. “When we were at 30 candidates you do some initial review of them and then when it gets down to 10, you do even more detailed review. Then we got down to six and it was a higher level of review. The highest level of review is with your finalists.”

McConnellogue told the Denver Post Thursday that “a substantial amount of vetting had been completed by the time the Grand Forks Herald reported on this.”

Just because Kennedy’s name has been released does not mean the system is done talking to people. The vetting process is still ongoing, according to McConnellogue.

“I don’t know that there’s a specific end point on it but I would say it’s ongoing,” he said.

The current president at the University of Colorado, Bruce Benson, is retiring from the school after 11 years. Wednesday morning, the Board of Regents voted unanimously to make Kennedy the only finalist for the president’s position. The position also oversees four CU system campuses, including Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs, along with the Anschutz Medical School.

Kennedy and the CU system are now in a waiting period before the Board of Regents can vote on his final appointment. Colorado law requires that a finalist’s name be public for 14 days before a candidate ultimately is appointed to the president’s position.

Kennedy is set to visit the four system campuses the week of April 22. The Committee on Rights and Compensation, an independent graduate labor union at CU Boulder, tweeted about Kennedy’s April 26 campus visit and asked students to protest at noon.

An open letter asking for the board to withdraw Kennedy’s nomination as president is also circulating. As of Friday afternoon it had more than 1,600 signatures.

Additionally, an official Change.org petition has also been created to try to halt Kennedy’s nomination.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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