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McFeely: Kennedy's Colorado contract worth $2.55 million, plus perks

Mark Kennedy, finalist candidate for president of the University of Colorado, left, gets set for a town hall with CU system administration and other attendees at the Warwick Hotel in Denver Monday, April 22, 2019. Kennedy is the sole finalist being considered for the position. Joe Amon / The Denver Post

You could call it the "shaking hands and kissing babies" clause, one supposes. For Mark Kennedy, a former politician, it's a part of his new contract in Colorado that should come naturally.

It will also be nicely profitable.

Included in the three-year, $2.55 million (at least) contract the outgoing University of North Dakota president signed to be the new president of the University of Colorado system is a bonus clause that will pay him $50,000 for "engaging in outreach efforts with governmental leaders, donors, and University of Colorado alumni" in his first year on the job.

That clause is part of an incentive package that can earn Kennedy up to $200,000 in the first year of his contract, when his base salary is $650,000. He will also be paid $50,000 for "engaging in outreach efforts on behalf of rural communities in the State of Colorado," another $50,000 for initiating a strategic planning process and $50,000 engaging in a campaign to support diversity and inclusion in the university system.


Kennedy's base salary in the final two years of the contract will be $850,000, plus any performance incentive salary agreed upon by him and the university.

According to a database compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kennedy will be the 80th highest-paid executive among all U.S. public and private colleges. His base salary at UND was $365,000.

Not a bad raise for somebody seen as, at best, a middling president in Grand Forks. There were any number of groups celebrating Thursday, May 2, when the Colorado board of regents voted 5-4 to approve Kennedy as their system's new leader. And there's this: Kennedy will earn more in base salary than he would've at Central Florida, where he was a finalist for president a year ago. The person hired for that job received a base of $506,000.

Heckuva deal, this higher ed ecosystem.

Kennedy's salary and perks are not unusual in the wealthy world of higher education leaders, given the list made available by the Chronicle of Higher Education. That doesn't make them any less eye-popping for faculty and staff earning much less — or students and parents trying to find a way to afford a college degree.

Among Kennedy's perks in Colorado:

  • A one-time $80,000 payment to cover his moving and transportation costs, plus any temporary housing costs.
  • An annual $15,000 automobile allowance, "in lieu of reimbursement for mileage and parking."
  • A suite for University of Colorado home football games and up to four season tickets to home games for both men's and women's basketball.
  • The one-time payment of the initiation fee to one Boulder or Denver social or country club, mutually agreed upon by Kennedy and the university. All dues and ongoing membership payments will be paid by Kennedy.
  • A contribution to Kennedy's retirement plan, paid by the university, of 10% of his base salary, subject to Kennedy contributing to the plan "at the normal 5% contribution limits." That could add up to $235,000 contributed by the university over three years.

It's unlikely Kennedy would leave for another higher education job before the end of his contract, but just like buyout clauses in college coaching contracts, any suitors would pay dearly for Kennedy's services.

If Kennedy was to leave before June 30, 2020, his new university would have to pay the University of Colorado $750,000. The buyout drops to $500,000 before June 30, 2021, and $250,000 before June 30, 2022.


It is interesting, too, to see the specific language of Kennedy's duties. Republican members of the Board of Regents, responsible solely for the Kennedy hire, seemed deeply offended that students, faculty, alumni and Democratic regents would call into question Kennedy's political background as a GOP congressman. Republicans claimed politics and ideology had nothing to do with the job, that Kennedy's role was strictly management and fundraising.

But that's not entirely true, according to the contract. Among the 18 duties and responsibilities specifically listed, Kennedy will serve "as the chief academic officer of the University, providing academic leadership for the University in meeting the needs of the state, and advancing the academic policies of the University."

So, in other words, he can influence academic direction.

Kennedy will also be the "chief spokesperson for the University and interpreter of University policy" and he'll be responsible for "setting the direction for the University system."

The job, as suspected, is more than just overseeing a system. As with any leader of any organization, if Kennedy so chooses he'll be able to influence the culture and values of the University of Colorado's four campuses. Perhaps that's why the Republican regents spoke so strongly in favor of him.