The University of Colorado Board of Regents voted to pay departing President Mark Kennedy a lump $1.36 million when he leaves his position by July 1, but not until after some Republicans on the elected board accused Democrats of forcing Kennedy from office for political reasons.
Democratic regents, who took over the majority on the board after last fall's election, rejected the charge, saying the controversial former GOP congressman's exit was a mutual decision, and expressed hope that the regents will hire Kennedy's replacement on a bipartisan basis.
The board approved an agreement spelling out the terms of Kennedy's departure a year before his contract was up on an 8-1 vote, with at-large Regent Heidi Ganahl, a Republican, voting against it.
The vote capped a contentious public meeting that followed a closed, one-hour executive session to finalize the agreement.
“We're delivering on our mission to discover, to teach and to serve. I think there’s a lot of great things moving forward and on a positive trajectory," Kennedy said. “Thank you for the honor to be here at CU.”
Kennedy's base pay was $650,000 for the first year of his contract and $850,000 for each of the second two years.
Before casting her vote, Ganahl maintained that the early termination of Kennedy's three-year contract to "satisfy the political whims of a majority on the board" was "disruptive, not to mention insanely expensive." Kennedy, she added, was "being fired for the high crime of not being a Democrat or left-wing academic."
Ilana Spiegel, a Democrat representing the 6th Congressional District, said the decision was "not about ideology" but was based on "principles, fundamental truths, that serve as a foundation for me as an individual and as a fiduciary of the University of Colorado." She added that her vote was "one of fairness and for the least disruptive, least costly option."
Kennedy, a former president of the University of North Dakota, was hired two years ago on a 5-4, party-line vote over protests from students and faculty. His tenure has been rocked with controversy, including censures last month by the Boulder Faculty Assembly and CU's student government unhappy with his work on the university's "diversity, equity and inclusion" goals.
At-large Regent Lesley Smith, a Democrat and long-time CU faculty member, said she was concerned CU was in danger of losing academic ground under Kennedy's administration.
Referring to a recent reprimand of Kennedy by the system-wide faculty governing council, Smith said, "I heard loud and clear that there’s a lack of shared governance between the faculty and the president. Our university runs on a shared governance model. A lack of strong shared governance breeds mistrust and threatens a thriving CU."
Earlier in the virtual meeting, a motion to postpone Kennedy's departure until his original contract expires next summer by Republican Chance Hill, from the 5th Congressional District, failed on a 6-3 vote, with Hill, Ganahl and Republican Sue Sharkey, from the 4th Congressional District, voting in favor.
"Conservatives are not welcome at the university of Colorado," Sharkey said. "I love the university of Colorado. However, sadly, conservatives are not welcome at this university."
Hill said it was clear Kennedy was being forced from his position "because the five Democrats on the board cannot bear the pressure from their liberal political base."
Said Hill: "Coloradans should take notice of what the Democrats do here today. We will lose our state and our country if voters continue to elect Democrats more interested in appeasing the 'woke' mob than in doing what is right."
Regent Callie Rennison, a Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District, said after the meeting that Kennedy wasn't fired or forced out, contrary to what several regents had said.
"The rhetoric of a 'woke mob' running rampant on our campuses and forcing Regents to act in any way is fantasy," she said. "Perhaps language like this satisfies some individual's political base, but it is damaging to the University of Colorado System." She added that characterizing CU's students, faculty and staff that way was "not only inaccurate and damaging, but also demoralizing, demotivating and insulting."
This story has been updated to clarify that a system-wide faculty governing council recently reprimanded Kennedy, in addition to a recent censure of the president handed out by the Boulder Faculty Assembly.