Late last week North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott sent a letter to embattled UND President Mark Kennedy accepting his tacit resignation.
Kennedy had, earlier in the week, sent the campus what sure seemed like a definitive resignation letter, and Hagerott chose to view it that way.
But yesterday the Grand Forks Herald reported that Kennedy disputed Hagerott’s interpretation. “This letter confirms that I have not resigned my position as the president of the University of North Dakota,” Kennedy wrote. “If I were to resign at some point in the future, I will provide you with written notice of my resignation.”
What’s going on?
The simple answer is that Kennedy doesn’t have the job in Colorado yet. He was announced as the sole finalist for the job – a guest on my podcast today says that decision was about exploiting Colorado’s open records law so that other applicants for the position can remain a secret – but he’s just that.
One facing protests and push back.
The more complicated answer is that Kennedy is hedging his bets.
Below is his current employment contract with the North Dakota University System. It guarantees him, among other things, employment as the president of UND and a salary of $365,000 per year until June 20, 2020.
If Kennedy gets the gig in Colorado, then none of this really matters. He’ll leave, and North Dakota’s higher education leaders will pick a new president for UND.
If he doesn’t the job, things will get interesting.
Which is why it was important that Kennedy went on the record saying he hasn’t resigned. If he’d let Hagerott and the NDUS carry on with that conclusion, he’d be done in June and the State of North Dakota would owe him nothing. By denying he resigned, Kennedy puts himself in a position to enforce his contract.
The NDUS would have to fire him to get rid of him, which means compensating him in some way for the rest of his contract.
What would be best is for the State Board of Higher Education to simply let Kennedy’s contract expire. Whatever Colorado decides, North Dakota owes the man nothing after June 20 of next year.
Commence a search for a new president now, and plan on that person being Kennedy’s successor next June. Or perhaps earlier, depending on circumstances.