On May 2, a majority on the University of Colorado Board of Regents voted to confirm former Congressman Mark Kennedy as CU’s 23rd president, offering him a multi million-dollar contract.
The Regents are a group of people appointed to supervise the higher education system and are usually pro-capitalist business people with no education background or experience. When arch-reactionary Mark Kennedy was selected as their sole finalist, students and faculty organized speak-outs, letter-writings, and a rally against the former Republican congressperson.
In the weeks before his confirmation, community members spoke out at “town hall” campus events in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Aurora.
In spite of meaningless and impossible assurances from the Regents that Kennedy “will not be a political president,” university activists denounced Kennedy’s reactionary voting record in Congress, as well recent statements against abortion rights and against marriage equality.
According to a University of Colorado Faculty Council poll over 90 percent of students and 88 percent of faculty believe Kennedy will not meet their expectations of a university president. This is not surprise. In 2006, Kennedy voted in favor of the so-called “Marriage Protection Amendment,” which would have made gay marriage constitutionally illegal. Kennedy received 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights advocacy group. The ACLU gave Kennedy a paltry 7 percent rating.
While in Congress, Kennedy denied $84 million in funding for Historically Black colleges and universities.
On organized labor, Kennedy is no better. He received a 0 percent rating from the AFL-CIO and 17 percent from the National Education Association, the union representing public school teachers and the largest organized labor body in the United States. These ratings reflect a hostility to organized labor.
Alex Wolf-Root, a leading member of the Committee on Rights and Compensation, the graduate-student worker union at CU, told Liberation News that, “Mark Kennedy is bad for the CRC because he is anti-labor and anti-education. However, even if the graduate students were being paid a living wage, I would still be out here. I’m much less concerned about me and my exploited colleagues than I am for other marginalized voices on campus, in particular the LGBTQ community, because of Kennedy’s vote [against marriage equality.] When he was in Congress he voted against educational opportunities for Black and Brown individuals, against abortion rights. His coming here would not be in the interest of anyone but well-off white folks.”
Wolf-Root was contacted by LGBTQ faculty at the University of North Dakota, where Kennedy previously served as president. “Faculty who work there expressed that they still don’t feel safe due to Kennedy’s stance on their sexual orientation,” Wolf-Root said.
At a time when tuition costs are on the rise and student debt is ballooning, the university decided to give Kennedy an 81 percent pay raise over the previous president. His three-year contract allots $650,000 for the first year and $850,000 for each year after that, in addition to $80,000 for moving expenses, a $15,000 “annual automobile allowance,” and $200,000 in bonus opportunities.
If Kennedy worked 40 hours a week (and that’s a big “if”), he would be making $405/hour. In other words, what Kennedy makes in one hour will equal what a Colorado minimum wage worker makes in one week.
This trend in rising university president pay extends across the country. In 2017, 11 public university presidents made over $1 million, and some private university presidents made over $2 million.
In the face of widespread community outrage over all-of-the-above, CU Regent Chance Hill posted on social media: “Come Hell or high water, I will proudly and unapologetically vote Yes this Thursday to appoint Mark Kennedy as our next CU President. Whether he is confirmed or not remains to be seen. But I will not reward a small, well-orchestrated Far Leftist mob—who in my opinion represents a mentality as dangerous to this nation’s future as any foreign threat we face.”
This is how the pro-capitalist, pro-business Board of Regents regard the majority of students and faculty in the CU system. People coming together to protect their rights to abortion, unionization, and marriage equality are labelled a “mob,” while a wealthy man who wants to erode these rights is viewed as a material for university leadership.
Student and faculty led opposition during Kennedy’s nomination process has made one thing clear: community opposition to Kennedy and his reactionary politics will continue to haunt him during his presidency.