Olens installed as KSU president as protests continue

Kennesaw State University students took a knee during the national anthem at the officially installing of Sam Olens as university president. (Eric Stirgus/AJC)

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley stepped to the lectern Thursday to officially install Sam Olens as Kennesaw State University’s president.

But the board he heads will soon look into the way KSU, under Olens, handled a protest by some cheerleaders that many feel has stifled the students’ rights to free speech.

Olens spoke during the ceremony, but did not mention the recent events that brought KSU into a regional and national spotlight.

He talked about his goals of helping students succeed, and he got choked up speaking about his parents.

A day earlier, the Georgia Board of Regents announced it will conduct a special review of the university’s actions after five cheerleaders took a knee during the national anthem at KSU’s Sept. 30 game to protest police misconduct and racial injustice.

The university moved afterward to keep cheerleaders off the field during the anthem, and questions are swirling why the decision was made after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained text messages from Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who is from Cobb County and controls university purse strings from his position, boasting that they called Olens after the event and cajoled him toward making the change. Olens told the newspaper the change was made by KSU’s athletics department and he talked to Warren after the decision.

Olens had been the state attorney general and a Cobb County Commission chairman before that. He was the only candidate the regents considered when appointing him president of KSU last year, which caused consternation among some faculty because Olens had no academic management experience.

The installation ceremony, called an investiture, began with the frustration many on campus feel towards Olens and KSU administrators. Some professors boycotted the ceremony, leaving the auditorium about half empty.

About a dozen students who attended took a knee during the national anthem, in a protest similar to the actions of the cheerleaders, and walked out soon afterward.

“We’re trying to show we stand beside these cheerleaders,” explained Kyrefe Harper, 23, a KSU accounting major who took a knee.

After the ceremony, there was a celebration on the campus green. About 200 protesting students moved there and completed for attention with a jazz band that was playing, while many students seemed more interested in free food that was being served.

Olens was not seen on the green immediately after the ceremony.

The board of regents did not indicate how long the investigation might take.


The AJC's Meris Lutz keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Cobb County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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