The University of Colorado Boulder’s faculty assembly is poised to vote Thursday on a measure censuring CU President Mark Kennedy — a move that would be the first of its kind and one that a Republican regent described as a political attack on the conservative leader.
The vote will determine whether the majority of Boulder faculty want to issue a censure — or a “strong criticism” — of Kennedy’s actions and comments around diversity, equity and inclusion since being hired as president in a split, party-line vote by the CU Board of Regents in 2019.
The censure vote will be carried out by more than 60 faculty members representing different campus departments, said Bob Ferry, chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly.
“The faculty are angry about the failure of the university’s leadership to go far enough and move fast enough around issues of diversity,” Ferry said. “This is the first BFA censure of a president ever, and we’ve had Republican presidents. This is different. I don’t think the faculty has gotten more crazy about Republicans or anything like that. The world is moving, and we’re trying to keep up with it and help lead, and I don’t think the president is doing that.
“We’re saying in the area of (diversity, equity and inclusion), Kennedy has made missteps, mistakes and failed to provide the leadership we need.”
Ferry also noted that Kennedy’s annual review by the CU Board of Regents, which just switched to a Democratic majority for the first time in about four decades, is coming up this summer.
Only one of CU’s elected regents, Sue Sharkey, returned a request for comment on the Boulder faculty’s move to censure Kennedy.
In a statement to The Denver Post, Kennedy said that he has the utmost regard for CU faculty and respects their right to be critical of him or any CU leaders.
“While we are making progress in diversity, equity and inclusion, we need to make much more, and I invite anyone interested in doing so to join me in this important work,” Kennedy said.
The Boulder Faculty Assembly’s censure motion lists incidents that faculty members said illustrate Kennedy’s failure to lead on diversity issues, including the CU president colloquially using the term “trail of tears” in a faculty meeting last year and asking that campus statements on “sensitive” topics such as race, immigration, LGBTQ+ issues, and climate change be pre-cleared through his office.
The motion states Kennedy “has a well-documented history of making problematic and hurtful statements without apologies or consequence.”
Faculty representatives have had about a month to discuss the censure vote with their departments and vote accordingly, Ferry said, noting the importance of providing time to have meaningful conversations.
“I emphasized a desire to have this discussed as widely as possible because we’re perpetually accused of being a radical cabal of a few people who want to do bad things,” Ferry said. “In this case, Regent Sharkey accused us of wanting to bring down a Republican president.”
Sharkey, R-Castle Rock, wrote in a Facebook post that the Boulder faculty has “an agenda” to attack Kennedy any way they can.
“Why?” Sharkey wrote. “He dares to be a Republican in their leftist institution. For those who aren’t aware, they don’t and won’t tolerate a conservative amongst their ranks… Kennedy has done more to enhance diversity at the almost all-white Boulder campus, and all the while under constant criticism from individuals on both sides of the issue.”
Ken McConnellogue, CU system spokesman, pointed to diversity initiatives completed under Kennedy’s tenure, including the hiring of the CU system’s first chief diversity officer, Kennedy requesting the CU Foundation put $5 million toward a fund helping all campuses with diversity efforts, and advancing legislation to provide in-state tuition for members of Indigenous tribes that called Colorado home.
In an interview with The Post, Sharkey added that the system-level faculty council that represents faculty on all four CU campuses is made up of mostly white people.
“I’m frustrated that they aren’t taking a look in the mirror and dealing with their own lack of diversity among their leadership,” Sharkey said.
McConnellogue said the university system trusts that the CU Boulder faculty “will bring the same level of intellectual rigor and inquiry to the consideration of this resolution as they bring to all their work.”
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