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Carman: Leaked documents reveal rush to mediocrity in CU president search

As we hurtle into 2020, bracing ourselves for yet more petty political mayhem and dysfunction, let’s pause a moment to honor those noblest of public servants: the whistle-blowers.

Where would we be without them? Especially when we consider just how enlightening it is to see the reactions of public officials when their back-room dealings are unceremoniously exposed. Never mind the facts, the instant response to whistle-blower reports is to lambaste the leaker. 

Diane Carman

It’s as if these buffoons think they own exclusive rights to the truth.

The harrumphing from the University of Colorado Regents after the Colorado Independent published the list of candidates they didn’t pick for the job of university president is straight out of the Rudy Giuliani playbook of political sleaze.

The regents mouth meaningless talking points scripted by their PR department about the “process that produced the results we wanted” and then climb back on their high horse to indignantly call for an investigation to identify and persecute the leaker.

It’s like blaming the canary for the gas in the mine. 

And no wonder the regents have worked so hard to conceal the details of the presidential search process. It turns out, they have good reason to be embarrassed.

They picked a new president who seemed to be just right for the University of North Dakota whose motto is “Cooler than you think.” It’s also smaller than you might think with enrollment of 13,847, poorer with a budget one-eighth as large as that of CU, and ranked 202nd nationally. (CU Boulder is ranked 33rd.)

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Four of the nine regents voted against hiring this guy and faculty members and students protested when his name was announced. 

It wasn’t just that former UND President Mark Kennedy had a well-documented reputation for extremism – opposing same-sex marriage, stem cell research, funding for women’s reproductive health care and protections for endangered species, as well as supporting requirements to force school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He also reportedly attempted to mislead the regents throughout the search process.

Former CU Regent Linda Shoemaker explained her vote against his selection last spring, citing his “ethical misconduct” and her determination that he did not have the “ability to be an effective leader.”

Regent Irene Griego explained her no vote saying that she was convinced that he would not “foster our diversity efforts to protect the well-being of students of color, the LGBTQ community or students with different ideas or backgrounds.”

Given the stinging criticism, Kennedy did not exactly start his new job on a shimmering glide-path to success.

And now, thanks to the anonymous whistle-blower and months of investigative reporting by the Indy’s Susan Greene, Coloradans know the facts we’ve been systematically denied.

Among the candidates who were rejected by the regents: former Gov. Bill Ritter, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, former Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, the president of No. 10-ranked Penn State University, the former chancellor of No. 37-ranked Texas A&M, the chancellor of No. 36-ranked Rutgers University and the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force. 

Now, I know there are confidentiality concerns whenever job searches are conducted and, to the Indy’s credit, some names were concealed to protect applicants vulnerable to blowback from current employers. But Coloradans deserve an explanation for how we ended up with such an undistinguished leader at the state’s flagship university system.

After all, taxpayers and tuition-paying students are paying dearly for his services. 

His compensation package includes, among other things, a starting salary of $650,000 with $80,000 in moving expenses, reimbursement of country-club initiation fees and $65,000 a year (actually 10% of his salary each year) contributed to his personal retirement plan.

He also stands to get bonuses of $50,000 to create the framework for a strategic planning process, $50,000 to visit four Colorado communities, $50,000 to meet with donors and government officials and $50,000 to help create a campaign to support diversity and inclusion – all of which to many eyes seem like the kind of fundamental job responsibilities that no university president should need incentive pay to perform.

Kennedy may prove to be a perfectly fine president for CU. But given the extreme funding challenges, the longstanding struggle to attract and support nonwhite students, and the increasingly critical demands for innovation in research and instruction across the whole CU system, it would have been nice to have a president who drew unanimous support from the regents because the candidate was extraordinary in experience, integrity, leadership skills and the ability to inspire.

Alas, given what we know now, it’s clear the regents have provided us with their own motto for the University of Colorado. 

“CU – not as cool as you think.”

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

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