As news of the Board of Regents’ 5-4 party-line vote Thursday to appoint former U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy as the 23rd president of the University of Colorado system spread across the Colorado Springs campus, reaction ranged from optimism to outrage.
“I know there’s been a lot of controversy about him, but I’m excited to see what he’ll do,” said an accounting student who was sitting in the University Center. “I feel like people are mostly stuck on what happened in the past.”
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs senior Justin Jones and political science major called Kennedy’s appointment “the worst decision the regents have ever made.”
“It’s a slap in the face for students,” he said. “If I weren’t graduating in a few weeks, I wouldn’t come back here.”
Jones claimed two students in orientation Thursday who were considering applying, withdrew after hearing of Kennedy’s approval. Some professors have been talking in class about objections to Kennedy’s appointment, he said, and some people are concerned that donations to the CU system will dry up in protest.
“We still respect the Board of Regents, but this is a huge problem,” Jones said. “They never consult students.”
Other students just shrugged. Several said they either didn’t know who was being considered or weren’t aware a search for a replacement was underway.
UCCS student body president Sierra Brown, one of two students on a 17-member presidential search committee, told the Regents at Thursday’s meeting at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, that about 5,000 of the system’s 70,000 students gave input on the board’s selection of Kennedy as the sole finalist for system president.
Students at the CU Boulder and Denver campuses passed resolutions opposing Kennedy’s appointment, saying it would be detrimental to diversity and inclusion in the four-campus system.
“Some feel they’re not being represented properly by a white conservative male,” Brown said, mentioning LGBTQ groups, Latinx students and researchers.
During visits to the four campuses last week, Kennedy didn’t fully answer audience questions and “wasn’t able to engage,” Brown said some students told her.
Junior Travis Boren, who’s majoring in English with a focus on secondary education, said he doesn’t like Kennedy for many reasons, including his conservative politics.
But his main objection is Kennedy’s “inability to do his job at the University of North Dakota,” mentioning public feuds between Kennedy and major donors.
“If UCCS would be put in danger of alienating our alumni donors, it would be bad, and based on his previous experience, he has the possibility of doing that,” Boren said.
“It is absolutely absurd to pick somebody who’s bad at being the face of the university, when that’s his job.”
Boren said he hopes Kennedy succeeds, however, because “there will be a lot of damage to Colorado if he fails.”
Thursday’s decision was “disheartening” for sophomore Joy Webb, whose sister also attends UCCS and identifies as a lesbian.
“I really don’t like to see people in a position of power who have strong hatred and have expressed disagreement with LGBTQ rights,” she said. “It’s pretty upsetting since UCCS is supposed to support inclusivity.”
Webb said she wishes students’ voices could have been heard more during the eight-month process.
“The Regents think he’ll be leaving his political affiliations at the door, but I don’t think that’s possible,” she said. “I hope he can be accepting of the many different types of students within the CU system.”
UCCS Chancellor Venkat Reddy issued a statement in which he said Kennedy has assured him he intends to support UCCS and work to increase funding for the CU system.
“Many of you shared your opinions about Mr. Kennedy in the last few weeks,” Reddy’s statement said. “We are now committed to sharing our priorities and values with him in greater detail as he begins his work for CU.”