CU Boulder faculty group censures university President Mark Kennedy over diversity issues

The University of Colorado Boulder’s faculty assembly voted Thursday to censure CU President Mark Kennedy for his actions and comments surrounding diversity throughout his time leading the four-campus system.

The vote was 35 in favor, 20 opposed and one abstention.

The censure vote, a first of its kind for the Boulder Faculty Assembly, was carried out by more than 50 faculty members representing different campus departments during a virtual meeting late Thursday afternoon. The group also will conduct a poll of all faculty members, the results of which will be announced at a later time.

“He (Kennedy) isn’t leading on diversity, equity and inclusion,” said David Paradis, a CU Boulder senior instructor, during the meeting. “He has (chief diversity officer) Theodosia Cook in that office, and that’s great. Now fund that office… Don’t make us push you to do it. Do it. That’s what leadership is, and we’re not getting that right now.”

Deb Palmer, who represents the education department, said her unit unanimously voted in favor of the motion.

“A motion of censure sends a message and that message is important for us to send as faculty,” Palmer said.

Senarath de Alwis, who represents the physics department, said the people he heard back from in his department were against the censure.

“The reasons given were that to censure the president requires a much higher bar like some action that the president has carried out like setting up an institute of creation science or moving away from in-person education to totally remote education,” Alwis said. “This resolution talks about various statements he has made, inappropriate use of words, and I don’t think this censure motion is appropriate.”

Kennedy issued a statement following the vote.

“I hear and understand the concerns raised by the Boulder Faculty Assembly,” he said. “Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion is among the top priorities for the Board of Regents, me, the campus chancellors and the university community. I welcome both constructive criticism and active engagement to help move that priority forward. I believe we are making progress and I am committed to our ongoing work.”

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.

Bob Ferry, outgoing chair of the BFA, noted 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.

In a statement to The Denver Post earlier this week, Kennedy said that he has the utmost regard for CU faculty and respects their right to be critical of him or any CU leaders.

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.

CU Boulder’s student government and graduate student government voted to censure system Kennedy earlier in the month for what they described as his failed leadership with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.

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