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Angelique Foster receives the President’s Medal from UND President Mark Kennedy. UND Photo

McFeely: UND's Kennedy plays the race card in trying to explain away his chief of staff controversy

Mark Kennedy, who will leave his job as University of North Dakota president to take a similar position at the University of Colorado, told a Colorado newspaper that the controversy over him attempting to have his chief of staff work remotely was racially motivated.

"I fear that part of the reason that that article got as much attention as it did is some people couldn't understand how a young African-American woman from the South could be as qualified and worthy" to do the job as others, Kennedy told the Boulder Daily Camera. "I'm quite confident it is about more than remote working."

Kennedy, president at UND since 2016, has been announced as the sole finalist for the University of Colorado's open president position. Kennedy made a statement late Wednesday afternoon that he will be leaving UND at the end of the current semester to start the new job, which includes oversight of the Colorado system's four campuses.

Kennedy's brief tenure in North Dakota has been marked by severe cuts to the university and missteps involving the state legislature, major donors, the athletic department and staffing. The most recent occurred in February and involved Kennedy trying to keep his longtime associate and chief of staff Angelique Foster in her job working remotely from Texas.

According to the Grand Forks Herald, Foster was supposed to receive $114,000 in annual salary plus a $25,000 a year stipend for travel expenses.

North Dakota Board of Higher Education member Dan Traynor criticized the move and questioned whether Kennedy violated board policy, according to the Herald.

"I reject the notion that the chief of staff position can be properly performed remotely for any extended arrangement," Traynor said. "A chief with no staff is no chief of staff."

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott also objected and Kennedy changed course. Kennedy then said that Foster would be on campus through April and then would stay on for up to six months after that.

Traynor said he found it unlikely that a research university with a medical school, a law school and Ph.D.s available in business and management "cannot find one person with the capability and qualifications of a chief of staff," according to the Herald.

Foster was part of Kennedy's staff since his first day at UND on July 1, 2016. They worked together since 2012 when Kennedy was working at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., according to the Herald.

Foster announced in 2018 she would be leaving UND, but decided to stay at her job when it was decided she could work remotely and commute once a month to North Dakota.

"She’s just been fantastic with our strategic plan implementation and any number of major strategic initiatives that we’ve had here at UND, so being able to keep her on board in some way, shape or form is just a major win for the university,” university spokesman David Dodds told the Herald when questioned about Foster's working arrangement.

Kennedy is scheduled to visit the University of Colorado main campus in Boulder on April 26, according to the Daily Camera.