What’s being done to Mark Kennedy is nothing short of a political smear campaign.

The University of Colorado is appointing its new president, which begs the question: what do students and academics believe makes somebody qualified to lead a free, liberal institution? A distinguished resume? Significant experience in politics, academia and the greater America society?

As it stands for candidate, Mark Kennedy — the only candidate in the running — none of those things seem to matter. Students, academics and others in Colorado collectively seem to have decided that merit, virtue and capability are things that should be tossed out the window. Why? Solely, it seems, because of Kennedy’s longstanding conservative voting record.

One online petition to the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents, which calls for the board to withdraw Kennedy’s nomination, highlighted a number of concerns with Kennedy. Because of his voting record which reveals that he voted against same-sex marriage, affirmative action policies, and funding for stem cell research, among other things, the open letter says of him:

“Mr. Kennedy appears to be a divisive administrator with troubled relations to the public and to the media — not someone who would maintain CU’s academic rankings and public image, or bring together our diverse students, staff and faculty.” As I write, the open letter has garnered over 4,600 signatures.

Further, the CU Young Democratic Socialists of America and the United Mexican American Students y Movimeiento Estudiantil Chincanx de Azlán went on to describe Kennedy as: “…anti-queer, anti-union, anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-public education, anti-environment, anti-Palestine, anti-science, anti-civil rights.”

Sadly, the politically divisive and identity-obsessed progressive movement has claimed yet another victim for whom the standard for redemption has been set impossibly high. Instead of carefully and honestly considering Kennedy’s Curriculum Vitae highlighting his experience as a former congressman; as the president of the University of North Dakota, as a member of the esteemed foreign policy think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, as the author of business textbook published by the Columbia University Press, and as the chair of the nonpartisan Economic Club of Minnesota, the public is largely hung up on the fact that he is a Republican. And one who voted against same-sex marriage.

What’s more, the standard for Kennedy is so impossibly unattainable, that the public seems to have lost sight of the fact that he is indeed a human. Despite Kennedy having publicly amended his previous position on same-sex marriage, it’s not enough to satisfy the mob. For them, the damage is done and the blood is on his hands. Rather than welcoming as a potential leader somebody who is open to changing their beliefs based on new evidence or circumstances, the open letter instead reprimands Kennedy for his change of heart, arguing:

“Mr. Kennedy told the Denver Post that his position on marriage equality has changed with the social consensus, but CU needs a leader in diversity, not a follower.”

The glaring double standard is painful. Opponents of Kennedy truly don’t want a progressive and diverse leader, because that would mean somebody who is open to dialogue, and thus, positive change. Something that they have, in their words, expressed their distaste for.

Even the media doesn’t seem to fully understand why there is such virulent opposition to Kennedy’s nomination. The editorial board at the Denver Post published an article last week titled: “We’ve got no idea if Mark R. Kennedy is a good pick to head the CU system … and neither do the regents”.

Really? Because the CU Board of Regents have openly defended their nomination of Kennedy, a bold and much-needed gesture that shows the community that the University of Colorado still cares about the virtues of merit, accomplishment and hard work despite one’s personal political convictions — convictions which they have a constitutional right (and duty) to express in the polls.

The list of double standards and instances of selective outrage are countless. But perhaps the most glaring example that I can’t help but to point out is this: Kennedy’s opponents strongly oppose him predominantly for his perceived (former) anti-gay views. Fair enough. But for all of the backlash that Kennedy is receiving for his ‘homophobic’ voting record, the public’s collective ire seems to be exclusively reserved for those who, for whatever personal reason, simply voted against same-sex marriage however many years ago. But there has not been a single peep from the emboldened activist mob about the rights of LGBTQ people around the world, where they are truly threatened and persecuted for their sexuality.

I am referring, of course, to the rights of the LGBTQ community in places like Saudi Arabia. The Saudi kingdom still punishes homosexuality — and even perceived homosexuality — with floggings, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Nevertheless, the public at large has yet to form an angry mob at the fact that in 2017, CU President Bruce Benson, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, and a delegation of CU officials visited the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they met with Saudi officials hoping to strengthen the deep-rooted relationship between Saudi Arabia and CU Denver.

Nevertheless, nobody bats an eye at the idea that the CU leadership seems to care more about their Saudi dollars than they are about the representing CU’s values of diversity, openness, and the safety and inclusion of marginalized peoples, whether on campus or around the world.

CU Denver also enjoys a strong and deeply rooted relationship with the state of Qatar, whose human rights record is no less deplorable. In Qatar, homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment or flogging.

Indeed, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also known state sponsors of terrorism and are accused by the international community of providing direct aid and support to such groups as Hamas, al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, and even IS. Those same dollars are also flowing into the offices of CU Denver, once again, without even a moment’s worth of skepticism from the ‘concerned’ public. In April 2017, President Benson and Chancellor Horrell also spent time in Doha with the prime minister of Qatar, Abdulla Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose son graduated from CU Denver that year.

Opponents of Kennedy — students, activists, and academics — have demonstrated one thing: that they only care about the issues they claim to care about when they are threatened by a conservative Republican. If they cared about the values represented by the University of Colorado — especially pertaining to the rights of persecuted and marginalized minority groups — then they would be much more bothered by the fact that CU enjoys a deep, fruitful, and lucrative relationship with regimes who actively murder and persecute those in the LGBTQ community.

The way that Kennedy is being treated is beyond unfair, he is being singled out and made the target of a coordinated campaign to silence a conservative leader and deny him the prospects of filling a position that he is qualified and entitled to by the fruits of his labor.

All of that can be glossed over without even the briefest of scrutiny. And indeed, as the public has been keen to demonstrate, all of that is apparently preferable to the prospective leadership of the school by an experienced university president, an influential think tanker and businessman, and a former congressman: all simply because he is a conservative Republican who was once opposed to same-sex marriage.

Ahnaf Kalam, a writer and journalist, is a student at University of Colorado Denver.

Ahnaf Kalam, a writer and journalist, is a student at University of Colorado Denver.

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