Is there a No Republicans Need Apply sign in Academia?

For at least a few hours, Mark Kennedy looked like a shoe-in for the job of president at the University of Colorado. After a lengthy search, the regents unanimously selected the outgoing University of North Dakota president as their only finalist for the position. At that point, however, someone must have done a Google search and discovered Kennedy’s disreputable past as … a Republican Congressman from Minnesota.

Grab the fainting couch!

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy is the sole finalist in the University of Colorado system’s presidential search.

The Board of Regents voted unanimously to choose Kennedy, a Republican, as the finalist during a special board meeting Wednesday morning, and members of both parties have praised his bipartisanship and unique experiences.

However, some aren’t happy with his conservative voting history while serving as a Minnesota congressman from 2003 to 2007.

“I really question whether or not he has the qualifications to lead as exemplary a university as the one in Colorado and whether he has the best interests of students at the forefront,” said Carol Napier, who lives in Atlanta, Ga. Her daughter is a freshman at University of Colorado Boulder. “I would just encourage the Board of Regents to reconsider this choice, because I think it will be harmful.”

One of the regents tweeted out shortly afterward that “concerning” information had emerged after the vote that might require more action:

MPR’s Bob Collins reports that regents got “bombarded” by complaints on Twitter over Kennedy’s status as a finalist. The issue isn’t malfeasance or unethical behavior, but Kennedy’s record as a conservative representative from MN-06. Collins seems mystified why the regents didn’t anticipate the issue:

That information appears to be Kennedy’s voting record while representing Minnesota in Congress, a record that shouldn’t have been much of a secret to the regents in the first place, but apparently was. …

Regent Smith told the Boulder Daily Camera that Kennedy’s voting record never came up during a two-hour interview.

So why is it a possible deal-breaker now?

“I imagine that will be a question when he goes to forums, and I want to see how he responds and in return how the community responds to his responses,” Smith told the paper. “I want to make sure we have a fair process.”

Kennedy hasn’t been in office for over a dozen years. He gave up his MN-06 seat to run for the US Senate in 2006 against Amy Klobuchar and got buried. Michele Bachmann took over in MN-06, and now Tom Emmer represents the district. Kennedy was a solid conservative representing a solidly conservative district, including holding pro-life and pro-traditional marriage positions. At the time Kennedy held the latter, by the way, so did Barack Obama, who only “evolved” on same-sex marriage after winning a second term as president.

All of that is beside the point. Those were mainstream positions at the time as well as now. Kennedy was never an extremist politician on any issue, but more to the point, he’s had an entirely different career since January 2007. What relevance does Kennedy’s voting record in Congress from over a decade ago have to running the University of Colorado today? If the regents found him to be the most qualified candidate for the position before the subject of his votes from over a decade ago came up, why would those votes reduce those qualifications — except to the extent that they offend the partisan feelings of some regents a dozen years after the fact?

If the University of Colorado rejects Kennedy at this point for those reasons, they may as well hang a sign outside the campus that reads, “No Republicans Need Apply,” either for jobs or for admission. It would only reinforce the perception that this sign exists all through Academia, especially after Smith has publicly and explicitly made Kennedy’s political beliefs a hiring issue.