Should Attorney General Sam Olens lead Kennesaw State University? Students will say 'no' at Monday rally.

Kennesaw State University students and faculty continue to raise concerns over reports that Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens will be their next president.  On Monday, students are holding a "Say No to Sam Olens" rally at noon. A petition portraying the hiring of Olens as a step backwards for KSU already has 3,524 signees

Why is the KSU community upset? Here is one professor's explanation.

Leonard Witt is a professor with nearly 15 years of teaching and research at Kennesaw State University. In this column, he cites his concerns over the possibility that Chancellor Hank Huckaby will tap Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to lead KSU. Olens is a two-term Republican who previously led the Cobb County Commission.

On Sept. 19, the AJC reported the widespread speculation Olens would step down to take over the 33,252-student KSU.  AJC political reporter Greg Bluestein noted:

Olens has stayed mum on whether he will step down this year to take the reins of the school, which has faced troubling financial questions and the loss of its president, who abruptly announced his retirement just before the release of a damning state audit. The Board of Regents has declined comment, too. Rumors are swirling at the Capitol, and even Olens' decision to return a portrait of himself at the Capitol prompted a new wave of speculation.

"We still have an attorney general, last I looked, " said Gov. Nathan Deal, who wouldn't bite on a recent question about whether Olens would make a good fit at KSU. "Those are decisions that somebody besides me has to make. Sam Olens has proven himself to be a very good attorney general and he's garnered the support of the public."

With that background, here is Witt's column. (Olen has some defenders as this AJC story reports.)

By Leonard Witt

In 1996. the Olympics committee refused to allow the Olympic torch to be carried through Cobb County because of the county’s bigoted stand again homosexuals.

Cobb County -- via its most important asset Kennesaw State University -- is destined for the same criticism if the University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and the Board of Regents appoint Sam Olens as the university’s next president. They would be doing so without a whisper of faculty or any other constituency input,  thus breaking a long academic tradition and its own normal hiring procedures.

Already the KSU LGBTQ community members are signing petitions. A a headline in Project Q, a popular Atlanta blog, screams out “Gay marriage bigot Sam Olens to become KSU president.” Unfair? Perhaps, but how do we know,since the selection process is coming from the darkest corners of state government. As attorney general, Olens ardently opposed both gay marriage and now gender neutral bathrooms. Hence, the headline.

Given Cobb County’s history, try as the chancellor may argue otherwise, important national constituencies are going to be outraged­ about the secret meetings aimed at appointing a candidate who they know will infuriate the LGBTQ community and their allies at Kennesaw State, in Cobb County and throughout the state and nation.

The nation’s largest foundations that support higher education demand respecting diversity in all its forms. An active foe of gay marriage or transgender neutral bathrooms for KSU president? Cobb County again? We have better places to put our money. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Nike and just about every other major corporation may well openly or silently boycott Kennesaw State University. Plus, the tainted brand name will not exactly be a student resume builder.

Just see what is happening in North Carolina, where the state Legislature and governor passed laws opposing gender neutral bathrooms. In North Carolina, sanctions are piecemeal around the whole state. Not so here. Kennesaw State University will be ground zero and there will be plenty of collateral damage in Cobb County and all its towns and cities, especially if its leadership sits silently by without protesting this bad decision-making process by the chancellor and Board of Regents

It does not have to happen this way. Chancellor Huckaby and the Board of Regents can do what has traditionally worked so well at Kennesaw State University and most other top universities in the country. Search committees are formed. Candidates from across the nation apply. A diverse group of KSU faculty, alumni, students, foundation and community members help guide the chancellor and BOR in making their decision. It is a rewarding process for everyone involved and helps to build a healthy university community with full buy-in. It is also a transparent process.

Of course, Sam Olens should be encouraged to apply and then we can all see how he stacks up with the other candidates. Taking any other action could destroy, perhaps permanently, the great reputation that all members of this university community and Cobb County have worked so hard to achieve over the last 50-plus years.

Let’s, this time, show the world that Cobb County carries the torch for all its diverse communities.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.