GRAND FORKS — North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said he gave a swift and firm answer when UND President Mark Kennedy asked about potentially pursuing a job in Florida.
“I told him ‘Don’t do it,’” Hagerott told the Grand Forks Herald’s editorial board. “But he did it anyway.”
The scenario was a portion of the discussion when Hagerott visited with the Herald in late July. The topics ran a wide gamut, but the departure of Kennedy — who recently left UND to become the president of the University of Colorado system — became a central focus during the hour-long meeting.
Included in the discussion was Hagerott’s version of events in early 2018, when Kennedy showed interest in applying at Central Florida. When Kennedy had applied for that position, he had been in Grand Forks for less than two years.
The editorial board noted to Hagerott that it appeared he was avoiding using Kennedy’s name during the conversation.
“By the way, (we) noticed you didn’t use his name the two times you’ve mentioned him. Is that intentional?”
“Well,” Hagerott said. “I think he is a wonderful person and had a recognition of this massive transformation that’s happening (at UND). … I think there was a lot of strength in the things he was doing. But, you know, I was not happy that he applied for Central Florida. I told him ‘Don’t do it.’ … But he did it anyway. So, there were things that I obviously was not happy about. Being a former military guy, people have to know you are loyal and literally going to go down with the ship with them.”
Hagerott, knowing the conversation was being taped for potential use as a podcast, stopped to clarify: “In case any listener who is drawing some analogy between President Kennedy leaving and a ship under duress, UND is doing fine. It’s doing very well.”
Kennedy made a “strategic error” in applying to Central Florida, Hagerott said.
“He was asking hard questions, he was cutting the budget, he was embracing innovation and then all of a sudden, (he was) in Florida. I think that was a strategic error on his part.”
Hagerott then outlined a behind-the-scenes scenario that he said led to Kennedy’s decision to apply for the Central Florida position.
While Hagerott told Kennedy not to apply for the job, one board member told him it was OK.
“It was kind of a funny day when he called me. I said ‘don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I hung up the phone and grabbed another phone call … and in that time he got one board member to say ‘it’s no problem.’ … It was literally that afternoon. It was like three phone calls. But he had at least one board member say ‘I don’t see a problem with this.’”
When asked which board member said that, Hagerott replied: “I don’t want to say. But I think we all regretted that (Kennedy) hadn’t given us more time. Like, hey, what you need to do as a president is call each board member. Just don’t sample one or two. … The person who said ‘no problem’ doesn’t live in Grand Forks.”
Kennedy was selected as one of the four finalists for the position, but ultimately did not get the job.
Hagerott said Monday that same exchange did not occur when Kennedy was a candidate for the University of Colorado presidency.
“I found out when he was a finalist, basically,” Hagerott said.
Kennedy declined to comment for this story.