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Faculty mixed on Kennedy's potential departure

While UND President Mark Kennedy this week is in Colorado meeting with students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado, members of UND's faculty have mixed feelings about his potential departure.

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University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy

While UND President Mark Kennedy this week is in Colorado meeting with students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado, members of UND's faculty have mixed feelings about his potential departure.

Kennedy is the sole finalist for the CU presidency, which oversees a four-campus system. The CU Board of Regents is nearing the end of a 14-day waiting period before it can vote whether to appoint Kennedy as president. CU spokesman Ken McConnellogue said the board likely will decide in early May.

Eric Murphy, UND associate professor, said many faculty members he has spoken with likely won't be disappointed if Kennedy leaves.

"I think the general vibe for most faculty is they're relieved," he said. "I think most faculty see a disconnect between the president and the faculty."

Murphy was the faculty representative on the State Board of Higher Education when Kennedy was hired in 2016. Murphy said he hoped Kennedy would be the type of leader to engage faculty in a "meaningful way," but Murphy says that didn't happen.


The announcement that Kennedy is the sole finalist has come with controversy, as his voting record-he was a two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives-has been scrutinized in Colorado.
While protests have already happened and are being planned at various places during Kennedy's Colorado visits, Murphy said he doesn't see Kennedy's congressional voting record as much of an issue for the job. He said students, faculty and staff have the right to protest against Kennedy.

Murphy said the CU presidency differs from Kennedy's role in Grand Forks. In Colorado, Kennedy would effectively serve in a role similar to the chancellor of the North Dakota University System, overseeing a system of four campuses.

"I think this position plays to Mark's strengths because it's more at the strategic level, sort of thinking big picture," he said.

Nancy Vogeltanz-Holm, who previously served as the chair of the University Senate at UND and who has worked with Kennedy on various projects, said she was "not surprised" to hear that Kennedy was the sole candidate for the presidency "at such a large and prestigious university system."

"But I also regret that he would be leaving UND," she said in an email to the Herald. "During my time last year as University Senate chair and my work these past few months with President Kennedy's Legislative Affairs team, I have had an up-close view of the progress he's been leading at UND."

Paul Todhunter, head of the University Senate, said the senate hasn't met as a whole since the announcement of Kennedy as finalist for the CU position. But, he believes there are mixed feelings among faculty about Kennedy and his potential departure.

Todhunter said there are some in the faculty who view the changes Kennedy made as "an example of strong leadership" and moving the campus forward in the face of significant budget cuts. Others haven't been as supportive of Kennedy over the past few years.

"I would imagine it's pretty mixed," Todhunter said. "I think the people that deal with him and interact with him on a really close basis ... are pretty supportive of what he's done and really have positive things to say about him."


Todhunter said he has been "pretty supportive" of things Kennedy has done during his tenure. Meanwhile, he says there are things he would like to tweak.

"By and large, he's had a bold and aggressive plan to try and move the university forward, rather than just having a Band-Aid approach to budgetary issues, which is kind of what we've done in the past," he said.

Vogeltanz-Holm said the school's One UND strategic plan "laid the framework" for a series of action steps that have resulted in several important gains for UND students. The plan also helped UND through large budget cuts and "gain in important areas that will lead UND into the future," Vogeltanz-Holm said.

She said improvements in four-year student graduation rates, more low-cost or no-cost open educational resources for students, and UND becoming a regional leader in online education are just a few of the improvements at UND during Kennedy's tenure.

Vogeltanz-Holm also praised Kennedy for his work with North Dakota State University President Dean Breciani and community leaders on raising awareness about the importance of research for the North Dakota economy.

"I know that President Kennedy's vision for UND and our students' successes flow from his belief that higher education plays an essential role in all persons being able to pursue their American dream," she said.

Vogeltanz-Holm said the strategic plan would continue to guide UND if the university must transition into new leadership.



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