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UND’s Kennedy faces taunts, chants on last day of Colorado tour

Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist for president of the University of Colorado, gets a chilly reception, at the University of Colorado on April 26 in Boulder. RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post

BOULDER, Colo. — University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy was booed Friday morning, April 26, during his final stop of a four-campus tour as a decision looms on his nomination to the University of Colorado presidency.

Kennedy is the sole finalist for the University of Colorado president’s position, which oversees the Aurora, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver campuses. The Board of Regents is expected to vote Thursday to approve or reject Kennedy as president, the Boulder Daily Camera has reported.

He faced a tough crowd on the final day of his tour. Many of Kennedy’s comments during Friday’s forum were followed by yelling. The crowd laughed when he spoke about unifying campus communities when giving his opening remarks. Kennedy also misspoke at the beginning of the forum, saying he wanted to make CU “the most exclusive,” rather than “most inclusive” campus. The crowd booed and jeered in response.

Distinguished professor Elizabeth Fenn said she studies native peoples in North Dakota, and reached out to contacts about one of Kennedy’s strategic plan’s goals, the Boulder Daily Camera reported. Kennedy wrote that he met with all tribal colleges to create “2+2 Finish in 4” programs.

According to the newspaper, Fenn said she was unable to find anyone who knew of this program.

Kennedy said the program is not initiated at each tribal college, but has been established at one.

Reached later, Meloney Linder, UND vice president for marketing and communications, said the school has a relationship with Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten.

Kennedy’s voting record in Congress came up yet again during the forum, as it has at every stop during his tour this week.

Kennedy, who represented Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007, voted to restrict abortion rights and voted in favor of an amendment banning same-sex marriages.

A student asked Kennedy to give specifics on what types of benefits and supports he would give to students in the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m a little suspect because you keep saying supports and benefits and blah, blah, blah, blah,” the student said. “I want real support and benefits for students of color, for LGBTQIA students, for disabilities. What are you going to do when you get here?”

Kennedy said when he spoke about benefits he was talking about healthcare and retirement benefits for faculty and staff. When speaking about supports, Kennedy said he meant the various support systems on a campus level.

From a system level, Kennedy said the system and the campuses can debate goals and aspirations for the schools.

“I’m interviewing to be system leader,” he said. “I’m not going to reach into each campus and tell them what programs they should do.”

Kennedy and the student went back and forth for some time.

“Don’t hire him,” one member of the audience said. “He don’t know how to answer a goddamn question.”

Kennedy was pressed to publically apologize for his vote on same-sex marriage.

“I am pained that my actions caused others pain,” he said. “I apologize that my actions caused the pain that you now describe.”

One student, who said she was a conservative student leader at CU Boulder, asked Kennedy about his views on the First Amendment and what it means to him.

“As you can see, they’re not very welcoming to conservatives here,” the student said.

Kennedy said campuses must have debates on difficult issues and also teach students how to think critically and listening to other points of view.

During his time at UND, Kennedy created the “Eye of the Hawk” lecture series, which brings in speakers with varying world views to talk about topics

“One of the things I would hope to do would (be to) come to each campus with people with starkly different views, preferably pulled out of the CU community, to have a conversation that will help expand all of our minds as to how we can think more broadly, embrace critical thinking, be prepared for whatever the future may hold,” he said.

Another audience member asked about Kennedy’s salary at UND and what he would be paid at CU. Kennedy said money is not a driving factor for him. Instead, his driving factor is providing individuals the opportunity to get a college degree.

The yelling and booing didn’t stop after the forum ended. Students chanted as Kennedy left.

“Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Kennedy must go away,” members of the crowd chanted as Kennedy left the stage.

CU Boulder was Kennedy’s final stop at the Colorado campuses. Now, he waits to find out if the Board of Regents will affirm his appointment.

Boulder Daily Camera reporter Madeline St. Amour contributed to this story.