Never forget the old University of Colorado in the 1990s and early 2000s. There was the media’s obsession with a nutty left-wing professor who advocated terrorism and compared victims of 9/11 attacks to Nazis. The CU of that era was known for faculty drug orgies, athletic recruiting party date-rape scandals and a high annual ranking among the country’s greatest party schools.
Then the Board of Regents hired former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, a Colorado Republican, to serve as short-term president and clean up the place. By noon his first day, Brown had fired a slate of troublesome employees and enacted reforms that changed the university’s trajectory. Two years later, the regents hired oil executive and Republican politician Bruce Benson into the position, and the university saw nothing but progress the next 10 years. The days of scandal and poor performance were over.
To continue that trajectory, the regents hired University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy to replace the retiring Benson as president of the four-campus university in the spring of 2019. Because Kennedy served as a Republican in Congress long ago, a handful of left-wing agitators squawked. Maybe they longed for a return to dysfunctionality. It’s a good thing a majority of regents did not cave.
Kennedy is so devoted to higher education he plans to donate $150,000 of this year’s scheduled bonus to a scholarship fund for first-generation college students from rural areas. He will leave the remaining $50,000 in the university’s budget.
He so cares about education he reduced salaries for himself and other administrators by 10% to help CU contend with revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Others might stick students with the problem by recommending a massive tuition hike.
Kennedy met with The Gazette’s editorial board this week to discuss how the university will move forward during the pandemic. He described flexibility that moves all four campuses from the old one-size-fits-all model that only fits a few. The university will offer a buffet consisting of traditional in-classroom options, distance learning online, in-room instruction with remote professors communicating over the internet, and various hybrid options that should meet the needs of most faculty and students.
Kennedy exudes enthusiasm and confidence in the university’s ability to progress as a nationwide leader in state-sponsored academe.
In just more than one year, Kennedy’s accomplishments speak for themselves. They include:
• Leading one of the most successful fundraising years in CU history by generating $450 million in private donations.
• Leading CU through the COVID-19 response with a three-phased approach: triage, stabilization and transformation. Working with chancellors to address the health and safety of students, faculty and staff by leading the state in pivoting to remote learning and working. Working with higher education leaders nationally to successfully lobby for federal stimulus funding for higher education.
• Fast-tracking an initiative to substantially increase CU’s online education offerings in time for the unanticipated pandemic.
• Initiating a systemwide strategic planning process in the summer of 2019, engaging a wide swath of the university community internally and externally.
• Increasing research funding and launching an internal national security advisory group to increase CU’s share of research funding by the Department of Defense and Homeland Security.
• Hiring CU’s first systemwide diversity officer and a remarkable number of women and minorities into the president’s office.
The five-person majority of regents who voted to hire Mark Kennedy deserve commendation for succeeding in the difficult task of finding someone talented enough to fill the shoes of Benson. After a year of Kennedy’s high performance, it is clear they chose the right person.
The Gazette Editorial Board