It’s a beautiful day in Boulder, Colorado. The birds are singing, the green-and-grey mountains stand against the distant, rolling clouds and sky. At the University of Colorado’s flagship campus, there’s a line across from Macky Auditorium about twenty people long.
There’s a row of tiny lockers, a student sitting at a table, and a stack of waivers. A man in a suit with a CU name tag came and talked to the student, who told him that they were almost out of lockers big enough to fit a student’s backpack. Outside the auditorium, there are two big metal detectors and police and security keeping an eye on who’s coming in.
With not enough lockers, students in line have nowhere to leave their bags and can’t come to the open forum for Mark Kennedy, the sole finalist for the new president of the University of Colorado.
Kennedy’s been hopping around the state all through the past week, meeting with each of the four campuses in the CU system in open forums. Today, April 26, is the last one, in Boulder. Students were invited to come and ask Kennedy questions before the Board of Regents decide to elect or reject him.
UND President Mark Kennedy was booed Friday morning during his final stop of a four-campus tour as a decision looms on his nomination to the University of Colorado presidency.https://t.co/jDCjRzESgl— Sydney Mook (@sydney_mook) April 26, 2019
CU Denver, CU Colorado Springs, and the Anschutz Medical Campus met Kennedy, slamming him for his anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion voting record while he was in Congress in the 2000s.
But, if nobody can enter with a bag, and there’s nowhere to safely leave your bag, then the people with bags will hopefully leave. People like students, who tend to carry backpacks.
Thankfully, there was a table run by CU students against Kennedy just across the way. One was watching over a pile of backpacks on the grass, so they weren’t unattended. I dropped my bag in the pile and went through the metal detectors into the auditorium.
There was more security inside, both private security and CU campus police. Guards flanked both sides of the stage and were posted at the doors. Students and staff were swarming in the aisles. Many were ready with paper signs to hold up, saying “All Four Campuses United Against Kennedy.” I could sense the tension in the room as I sat down near the front.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano welcomed everyone and introduced the Regents who were in attendance today. Two of the Regents who didn’t support Kennedy were there, and cheers went up for them. When Kennedy came out, the room flooded with hisses and boos and shouts.
One of the Regents came out with him and asked the opening questions about what makes him qualified, what makes him a good choice for Colorado, etc., etc. Then, Kennedy began to ramble.
He rambled about the importance and value of higher education, of his bipartisan record in Congress, of his time as an executive at Macy’s and at the Pillsbury Company in the 80s, about bringing people together to make a better university and a stronger community, about checking his politics at the door. Looking around, people were whispering to each other and glaring dead ahead. They weren’t buying it.
Then the forum began in earnest. People with microphones stood in the aisles and held them for those who wanted to speak. Tenured professors to overworked TAs, undergraduates and alumni, even a former Regent of the University, it felt like everyone had something to say to Kennedy.
“Do you support or reject the Trump administration’s changes to Title IX protections based on gender?”
“You say your position on LGBTQ people has evolved; how did you evolve from supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-gender marriage to today?”
“What programs and resources will you commit to protecting and supporting queer students and students of color?”
“How will you protect free speech on campus?”
“How would you handle budget cuts to the University similar to ones UND faced during your tenure?”
“You keep saying that you’ll ‘support’ minority groups on campus, but what does that support specifically look like?”
“Would you support an initiative in Colorado to lower tuition?”
Even I got up to say my piece. “The Grand Forks Herald said you make $365,000 per year as president of UND. How much do you expect to make here?”
Every answer he gave was unfocused and pithy, snaking around the actual question being raised. It was clear that this open forum wasn’t going to reveal anything about Mark Kennedy that students, faculty, and staff weren’t already mad about.
The Chancellor and one of the Regents cut off the forum after the allotted hour was up. They asked us to give the Regents feedback on the selection process, and more boos and jeers closed the discussion. Kennedy shuffled off-stage as students in the front started a chant. “Racist, sexist, anti-gay; Kennedy must go away!”
I could see the Regents present and Kennedy himself didn’t want to deal with these disrespectful punks. There’s no mandate for them to respond to the people who actually work, live, and study at the University they run.
With no staff, faculty, or student representatives on the Board of Regents, and the Board being elected by the public, they could vote along partisan lines and confirm Kennedy, which is expected to happen. The community would be expected to take it. But today, and all this week, I hope the Regents saw and heard their constituents across the state, and realize that if they want to turn against the values of the school they represent, we won’t lie down and take it.