Former Minn. congressman in stormy waters at UND

Things aren’t going well for former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, who is now the president of the University of North Dakota.

He’s running into the culture of North Dakota, according to Mike Jacobs, a columnist and former publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

Kennedy was only 20 months into the job when he applied for an opening for president at the University of Central Florida, a job that paid more and wasn’t located in Grand Forks.

If you’re going to apply for a job 20 months after getting one in North Dakota, you better get it.

Kennedy didn’t get it.

Jacobs says Kennedy might be weakened fatally in North Dakota now.

Disloyalty was one issue, but hardly the only one. Kennedy’s presentation at UCF emphasized transparency and collaboration, as reflected in listening sessions held in North Dakota and in collaboration in decision making. In North Dakota he was seen as better at presenting than at listening and his decisions were more regarded as pre-emptive rather than collaborative.

Kennedy made the situation worse in a radio interview, when he blamed low morale on campus on the Legislature’s tight-fistedness. Morale is a function of leadership. He apologized, and he’s begun efforts to mend the damage, including meeting with legislators.

The gaffe was especially galling to lawmakers because Kennedy’s political experience played a role in his selection. He represented a Minnesota district in Congress, and began his academic career after losing a race for the U.S. Senate.

Expectations of political savvy were therefore high. Kennedy spoiled that scenario early, when he suggested that he should be referred to as “the honorable” based on his service in Congress. Humility is another virtue in North Dakota’s political culture.

Jacobs says another failed candidate for the Florida job — Matthew Wilson at the University of Akron — didn’t survive the sense of disloyalty. He’s resigned. He was in the job about as long as Kennedy, Jacobs notes.

Kennedy’s contract in Grand Forks has another year to go at $365,000.