Former Minnesota congressman Mark Kennedy has been named the sole finalist in the University of Colorado’s search for its next president.

Kennedy, currently president of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, will visit the CU campuses later this month before an official appointment is made by the system’s Board of Regents.

If the visit goes well, Kennedy is expected to begin his new position at Colorado on June 15.

“With mixed feelings, excited for this new opportunity, but sorry to leave UND, we look forward to keeping in close contact with our many friends in North Dakota and returning to witness UND’s continued progress,” Kennedy said in a statement Wednesday morning.

The news was unexpected for UND, spokesperson Meloney Linder said. The North Dakota Board of Higher Education will search for an interim president to replace Kennedy, who has been in office since 2016.

“We’re still assessing the announcement,” Linder said. “For most it was quite a surprise.”

Kennedy, a Republican, represented Minnesota’s Sixth District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007. His political background partly led to his selection to head the University of Colorado, which has campuses in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora, said CU spokesperson Ken McConnellogue.

Funding in Colorado is a continual struggle, McConnellogue said. The state is ranked 48th nationally in state funding for higher education.

“Working with the Legislature and the governor will be important,” McConnellogue said. “Obviously when you serve in the United States Congress, you are dealing with big, complex national issues, and that experience he had there will serve him well here.”

Kennedy’s last year at UND has been marred by a dispute with one of the school’s most generous benefactors, the Engelstad Family Foundation. That included an argument with foundation trustee Kris Engelstad McGarry over the logo on the school’s basketball court.

A Pequot Lakes native, Kennedy graduated from St. John’s University in 1979 before going to work for Pillsbury and the Federated Department Stores.

After losing a 2006 U.S. Senate election to Amy Klobuchar, Kennedy taught at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School in Baltimore and was director and professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.

“The University of Colorado is obviously considerably bigger than the University of North Dakota, but we feel like his experience in Congress and in business will really prepare him well for an enterprise of the size and complexity of ours,” McConnellogue said.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Isabella Murray is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.