The campuses–Rush Limbaugh likes to call them “campii”–of the University of Colorado are alight with controversy this weekend over the selection by the Board of Regents of a ready-made controversy–in the form of a “sole finalist” to succeed retiring CU President and Republican kingpin Bruce Benson, who looks to be at least the polarizing figure that Benson represented if not much, much more. CU Independent:
The University of Colorado Board of Regents have selected Mark Kennedy as the finalist to replace Bruce Benson as CU president, citing his commitment to bipartisanship and diversity. But since the announcement, community members have raised concerns about Kennedy’s civil rights record as a politician…
Late-breaking news Thursday night from The Denver Post revealed that a Tuesday article from the Grand Forks Herald rumoring Kennedy’s move caused the board to push up the date of their announcement.
Regent Linda Shoemaker (D-Boulder) told the Post that because of this, Kennedy was not fully vetted before being announced as a finalist to the public.
“We need the press and the public to do the job in vetting him,” Shoemaker told the Post.
More from the Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez:
After the announcement, public backlash from CU students, parents, alumni, faculty and the local community surfaced surrounding Kennedy’s voting record during his time representing Minnesota in Congress from 2001 to 2007, and other past actions.
Kennedy voted in favor of restrictions on abortion and against gay marriage. He was one of 236 members of the House to vote for the Marriage Protection Amendment in July 2006, which would have amended the Constitution to say that marriage consists only of one man and one woman. The vote fell short of the 290 votes required for passage in the House.
The CU Independent’s story goes deeper into ex-GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy’s voting record in the U.S. House, with a voluminous record of votes against LGBT and abortion rights. In addition the American Civil Liberties Union rated Rep. Kennedy at a dismal 7% against their scorecard.
While in Congress, Kennedy voted in support of several anti-civil rights bills, demonstrating an anti-LGBT and pro-life life stance. Kennedy also voted against support for college programs geared towards minorities and bears an unfavorable track record when it comes to higher education…
Representatives for Governor Jared Polis, Colorado’s first openly LGBT governor, declined to comment on Kennedy’s selection. Kennedy has said that his first phone call as CU president would be to Polis.
During Bruce Benson’s decade-long term as President of the University of Colorado, the institution has steadily pushed its public-facing brand toward the political right. Benson was personally consumed with the idea of “ideological balance” in the University’s faculty and curriculum, and did everything he could to promote this idea without setting off outright rebellion. The position of “visiting professor of conservative thought” was created so conservative think-piecers like Stephen Hayward could offend the student body from a position of scholarly authority. Meanwhile CU’s Leeds School of Business morphed into a white paper mill for Republican talking points on a range of economic issues.
Kennedy responded to the growing anger over his hastily announced selection as sole finalist with an open letter to the CU community, insisting that personal his views on issues like abortion and LGBT rights have changed along with the evolving “societal consensus” on these issues–consensus that’s hard to see in Mark Kennedy’s Republican colleagues today. That dryly-worded letter has by most accounts done little or nothing to ease concerns about his selection. Kennedy’s opponents on the Boulder CU campus are organizing a major protest for Monday at noon expected to be attended by hundreds if not thousands of students and faculty.
For a proud institution that has suffered from decades of fiscal neglect, followed by a period of improved solvency in exchange for corporate dependency and dubious politics under Benson, the choice of the next President is extremely important with profound implications for the future of the state’s flagship “public” university.
At first glance–which is all anybody has had–this choice doesn’t look good.