UND student leaders say uncertainty lingers on campus amid Kennedy’s potential departure
The head of UND student government said campus has been “chaotic” since President Mark Kennedy was named the sole finalist for the presidency at the University of Colorado.
“It’s been a bit of a distraction when you’re constantly thinking about what’s coming next and what’s the next thing that’s going to be in the news,” said Erik Hanson, UND student body president.
Hanson said the campus, like Kennedy and the CU Board of Regents, is playing a waiting game to see if Kennedy ultimately will be hired for the position. The announcement came April 10; Colorado law requires a finalist’s name to be public for 14 days before a final decision is made.
While there is uneasiness on on-campus, Hanson said students are still going to class and getting their work done. Most students do not have much interaction with Kennedy on a regular basis.
“I don’t know if there’s a ton of impact on their daily lives, but again, it’s kind of a distraction where you hear about all of these things and you kind of question what’s next and what happens after this if he’s leaving,” Hanson said.
Gracie Lian, incoming student body president, said there was a lot of “anger” on campus last year after it was revealed that Kennedy had applied for the president’s job at the University of Central Florida.
“Students want a president that’s dedicated to the university,” she said. “I know that (incoming Vice President Matthew Ternus) and I really want to see stability with the administration here at UND. So, really our goal is no matter which way this situation goes, whether he leaves or stays, is to maintain that stability and a strong sense of leadership on campus.”
Ternus said keeping open lines of communication between students and administration is important no matter what happens.
“We just want what’s best for the UND students,” Lian said.
While the student body government hasn’t had an official meeting since Kennedy was announced as the lone finalist, student government leaders did have dinner with Kennedy at his house on the day of the announcement.
“It was interesting,” Hanson said. “I think there were a lot of looming questions in the air, a lot of people that were a little confused as to what this meant.”
Hanson said he has enjoyed his time being a student government representative and working with Kennedy on various topics. He wished Kennedy “the best of luck” at getting the Colorado job.
“I think, at this point, if he’s ready to move on, so is UND and I think we’re excited to be looking forward and not necessarily holding on to the past,” he said.
Kennedy has had successes at UND, Hanson said, including increasing the four-year graduation rate and tackling various infrastructure problems and needs.
“I think on a number of those things President Kennedy’s vision has been strong and (the student government) has been supportive of in most ways,” he said.
However, Hanson said some things Kennedy has said in the media and done on campus has caused some stakeholders to lose trust in UND. It has “cast a shadow,” he said.
“Any good thing you do kind of gets a shadow cast over it and that’s just been some of the hard part,” he said. “How do we make sure we can keep the university and UND moving forward in a positive light when everything attached to it with President Kennedy’s name has that shadow of doubt?”
Hanson said an example is the situation with Kris Engelstad McGarrry, who has declared her family and the Engelstad Foundation will not donate money directly to the university until Kennedy is finished as president. The family still donates to student scholarships, however.
“Obviously that doesn’t look good for UND,” he said.
But while that may not look good for the school, Hanson said there are still people who are supportive of UND and its institution. One anonymous donor has pledged $20 million to help build a new business school, Hanson noted.
“That’s not to say that donor believes in President Kennedy. They believe in what the future is for students at UND,” he said.
Lian said Kennedy has been successful with the university’s strategic plan and ensuring UND is stable and more efficient in the future. However, she added that students have “not been impressed” with Kennedy’s relationship-building and communication skills.
“I do think it’s really easy to focus on the bad, but he has done some good,” she said.
No matter what happens, Hanson said UND and the student body will keep moving forward.
“I think as of now, we still push forward regardless of what happens with President Kennedy,” he said. “We still have a relatively shared vision moving forward for UND and I think a lot of people are still trying to use that as our compass moving forward.”