Herald editorial board
Mark Kennedy's tenure at UND is ending, and with it goes an era that has been productive yet tumultuous, strategic but at times clumsy.
Is Kennedy actually leaving UND? We believe it's inevitable-whether he gets his new job in Colorado or not. He is the finalist to become president of four campuses in the Colorado University system; a final decision is expected within two weeks.
If he doesn't get the job, we predict he's leaving anyway. Since he's an active job-seeker, that probably is best.
No doubt, Kennedy has detractors, but at times, the criticism has been unfair as he has worked to maneuver through a minefield of unfortunate circumstances.
UND's budget was cut by roughly a third during Kennedy's tenure. He was forced to make drastic reductions. There were multiple years without raises. As deferred maintenance costs skyrocketed, Kennedy ordered old buildings razed. Inevitably, his popularity suffered.
Those controversies were not Kennedy's making and their weight would be a heavy load for any president.
Yet some controversy was avoidable.
Last year, he applied for a job in Florida, eroding confidence that he planned to stay at UND. The last week of February, UND spokesman David Dodds stressed to the Herald that Kennedy is not interested in other jobs, yet Wednesday, Kennedy told the Herald the process at Colorado has been ongoing "for a couple of months."
Earlier this year, a furor arose when he gave a large raise to an assistant and promoted her to chief of staff, even as she planned to move to Texas. This week, Kennedy told a Colorado newspaper that he suspects "some people couldn't understand how a young African-American woman from the South could be as qualified and worthy (for the position). ... I'm quite confident it is about more than remote working."
He later clarified, saying North Dakota is a welcoming place, but the sting remains. If Kennedy is not ultimately hired in Colorado, that quote, coupled with his obvious interest in other jobs, will make it difficult for him to lead UND.
How will that comment sit with potential students and staff who are considering a move to North Dakota? How will potential donors react?
Don't misunderstand: His time in Grand Forks has notable highlights. His all-encompassing strategic plan has moved UND forward and impressed the business community. His high energy level was noticeable. His Gameday Experience Committee boosted interest in the UND football program. He began the process to build a modern steam plant and a new student union.
His tireless work to promote research at UND has been exceptional.
Yes, Mark Kennedy's time at UND is coming to a close. If he is hired in Colorado, he will leave in mid-June.
He is amply qualified for the Colorado job, and we wish him well. Had that position not arisen, we still believed Kennedy's attributes outweighed any criticism-fair or unfair.
But the fact he is seeking other jobs matters to North Dakotans and therefore it matters to us. Under these circumstances, it's difficult to see how Kennedy could be entirely effective if he stays at UND.