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McFeely: Could Kennedy's Colorado gig be in jeopardy?

UND president Mark Kennedy, The Grand Forks Herald's person of the year for 2017, has been described as the "consummate professional" by Kathleen Neset who was the chair of the State Board of Higher Education when Kennedy was hired. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

On the same day University of North Dakota president Mark Kennedy indicated he was ready to leave Grand Forks for a similar job with the University of Colorado system, a member of the Board of Regents tweeted Wednesday night that "concerning" information had come to light about Kennedy.

Regent Lesley Smith tweeted, "We voted for Kennedy as finalist for CU President. There's a 14-day vetting period before we vote for President. Some information about Mark has come to light that is concerning; my colleagues and I will be exploring this further."

Kennedy was identified earlier Wednesday as the lone finalist for the presidency of the University of Colorado system, a position that oversees four campuses including the flagship school in Boulder. A one-time Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota, Kennedy was praised by some regents as being a moderate who could work across the aisle in a state that is increasingly Democratic and has a Democratic governor in Jared Polis.

But later Wednesday, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper reported that at least one regent was concerned with Kennedy's voting record in Congress, which was very conservative. Carol Napier, a regent who lives in Atlanta, told the newspaper she was concerned that Kennedy voted against same-sex marriage and abortion rights while in Congress.

"I really question whether or not he has the qualifications to lead as exemplary a university as the one in Colorado and whether he has the best interests of students at the forefront," Napier told the newspaper. Her daughter is a freshman at the University of Colorado.

"I would just encourage the Board of Regents to reconsider this choice, because I think it will be harmful."

The Board of Regents had voted unanimously to make Kennedy a finalist for the job, the only one. Under Colorado law, the names of the finalists have to be known for 14 days before the regents can vote to name a president.

Smith had initially tweeted her support of Kennedy, but later updated a post after pushback from followers. She told the newspaper she did not ask Kennedy specifically about his voting record during his two-hour interview.

"We all want to be aware of anything that might be a flashpoint," Smith told the Daily Camera.

Kennedy is scheduled to visit the Boulder campus in late April, according to the newspaper.

If Kennedy doesn't get the job in Colorado, he might find it problematic coming back to North Dakota. He told the Daily Camera that a controversy over his chief of staff working remotely from Texas had to do with race, sexism and regionalism as well as location. Earlier this year, Kennedy was forced to back off an arrangement he had worked out with Angelique Foster to remain his chief of staff while she lived in Texas.

The arrangement came under fire from a member of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education, the media and the public. Kennedy later said the arrangement was only meant to be temporary.

"I fear that part of the reason that that article got as much attention as it did is some people couldn't understand how a young African-American woman from the South could be as qualified and worthy" to do the job as others, he told the newspaper. "I'm quite confident it is about more than remote working."

In a follow-up interview, Kennedy backed off the comment and called North Dakotans "very welcoming."