Trustees | Cancel Culture

Guest Opinion: Jonathan W. Pidluzny and Tom Lucero: Kennedy inherited inequities

DAILY CAMERA   |  May 27, 2021 by Jonathan W. Pidluzny and Tom Lucero

A not-so-funny coincidence: Just days before University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy announced he would be stepping down in light of the Board of Regents’ “new makeup” and “changes in its focus and philosophy,” the CU–Boulder Faculty Assembly just happened to vote to censure him. A coordinated effort, perhaps, but what is certain is that the termination of Mark Kennedy is a political act, and the faculty, to their shame, aided that effort.

The Boulder Faculty Assembly cited a “failure of leadership with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion” in the censure resolution. Serious allegations should be substantiated by compelling evidence. Instead, Assembly documents point to problems predating Kennedy’s presidency and reflect partisan outrage manufactured by a nitpicking deconstruction of Kennedy’s rhetoric.

For example, the resolution charges that “President Kennedy did not initially include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a stand-alone pillar in his administration’s Strategic Plan.” What goes unmentioned is that the planning process ultimately settled on “diversity, inclusion, equity & access” as one of the plan’s four pillars. A deliberative process that yielded the faculty’s preferred outcome is something to celebrate, no?

And then there is the allegation that “President Kennedy has a well-documented history of making problematic and hurtful statements.” The “evidence” here is flimsy and suffused with hypocrisy. One central exhibit: previous opposition to same sex marriage. President Obama also campaigned on the traditional definition of marriage—twice. Positions evolved for both men. But we only hear calls to cancel Republicans for old instances of wrong think. Other grievances include things not said (or not said fast enough) about hot-button issues relating to immigration and gun violence—as if a university president’s primary responsibility is to issue a Progressive political statement every time controversy erupts.

The resolution’s first point is the most serious: that “diversity, equity, and inclusion” issues “present grave challenges to the University of Colorado.” The original version of the censure resolution cited a 50-page report to substantiate the point. The footnote was removed at the last minute but the study provides a damning analysis of Boulder’s own record on diversity. That’s right: to censure a system leader installed 21 months ago, Boulder faculty discussed (then elided) longstanding trends on its own campus!

The problems detailed in the report truly are alarming: Boulder’s recruitment efforts prioritize wealthy high schools. Acceptance rates are going up overall but down for Black applicants—a trend stretching back decades. And in 2017, Boulder ranked last among PAC-12 schools for ethnic diversity, with Black and Latinx students badly underrepresented compared to Colorado’s demographics.

Citing recent federal data analyzed on HowCollegesSpendMoney.com, the report also spotlighted skyrocketing administrative spending and quite reasonably concluded that Boulder’s priorities are misaligned. What goes unmentioned is that the problems all predate President Kennedy. Chancellor Philip DiStefano has been responsible for Boulder’s Enrollment Office and resource allocation decisions for over 12 years.

So why omit reference to concrete diversity challenges to focus on President Kennedy’s rhetoric? Simple: politics.

The original resolution tacitly acknowledges as much in its allegation that President Kennedy, a three-term congressman, “minimize[ed] the gravity of” the January 6 Capitol riots “with a partisan message” to the campus. In fact, his statement called the insurrection “appalling” and expressed horror and heartbreak at the “desecration” of “the Capitol, the temple of our nation’s democracy.” His apparent sin was pointing to “identity politics” (along with “fake news”) as among the “combustible trends [that] are dividing our nation.” His statement goes on to call upon CU educators to work against societal divisions by instilling in students “the ability to think critically, broadly, creatively and inclusively” on campuses where “Diversity is the keystone for a rich exchange of ideas in pursuit of truth.” How is that a partisan message?

The censure resolution, so strangely linked to the Regents’ decision to terminate the president, is a partisan act—an attempt to cancel a university leader for his political leanings and a shameful reminder that politicizing the academy weakens higher education. Academics once prized reasoned debate and the pursuit of truth, fighting to shield public institutions from meddling by political and religious authorities. Today the reverse is true. And at Boulder, it is the faculty working feverishly to infuse politics into every aspect of university governance and campus life.

Jonathan Pidluzny is Vice President at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and served on the Morehead State University Board of Regents from 2017–2019. Tom Lucero served on the University of Colorado Board of Regents from 1999–2011.

This article originally appeared in Daily Camera.

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