Saying politics is now in his rearview mirror, outgoing Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said Wednesday he will work as the incoming president of Kennesaw State University to restore trust in the school’s administration amid ongoing investigations of former university leaders.
“That’s not a short-term project,” Olens, who takes over on Nov. 1, said in his first interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since being appointed last week to lead KSU by the state Board of Regents.
“There are pending investigations,” he continued, by the university and other agencies. “I will be looking for the results. There will be further change.”
Olens’ predecessor, Dan Papp, retired in June after KSU auditors said he received more than $577,000 in retirement pay from the university’s foundation before he left the school. Four other administrators were fired after auditors said they discovered, among other things, unauthorized expenses and exploiting school services for personal use.
Olens did not offer his specific plans, saying he plans to meet with school officials and determine the best steps forward. He added that he may bring one or two people with him to KSU, but he’s not bringing “a bus” of people to work with him.
As president, Olens said he wants to improve KSU’s graduation rate, currently in the low 40s, make sure students are prepared to find jobs upon graduation, reduce student fees, find more scholarships for students and strengthen the university’s biology, engineering, education and health sciences programs.
Olens, a former two-term chairman of Cobb County’s board of commissioners, said several longtime friends and Cobb County business leaders urged him to consider becoming KSU president after Papp resigned. Olens, who said he had been considering a career in education for about five years, mulled it over and contacted University System of Georgia Hank Huckaby to express his interest.
Critics say the state Board of Regents’ process selecting Olens was neither inclusive nor comprehensive and reeked of political favoritism. Although officials had said they’d conduct a national search for the job, Olens was the only candidate interviewed.
Some worry Olens’ legal arguments as attorney general against LGBTQ-friendly policies, such as defending a state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, show he’s out of step with the diverse student body. More than 16,000 people have endorsed an online petition against Olens becoming KSU president.
“They weren’t my positions, they were the state’s positions,” he said. “I’m the state’s lawyer, and I took an oath of office to defend the laws of the state, and that’s what I did.”
Asked about other Georgia attorneys general, such as Thurbert Baker, who sometimes didn’t follow the directives of their governor, Olens said Baker “took positions all the time he didn’t agree with because he was following the oath of his office.”
As KSU’s president, Olens said he’d take the lead from the Board of Regents on some policy issues, such as allowing transgender students to use restrooms that best fit their gender identity. He added that he’d ensure a “safe and creative environment” for all students. Olens’ KSU contract has not been finalized, officials said.
Olens said he’s met with student government leaders and asked them to arrange meetings with students to discuss their concerns and his goals for KSU. He’s planning similar meetings with faculty, brown bag lunches and other outreach efforts.
“When you see me walking around campus, go up to me,” he advised students.
Olens noted, in response to conerns that he hasn’t been in a leadership position on a college campus, that more people with legal backgrounds are leading universities. He also pointed to his experience on the Cobb commission, saying administrative skills are increasingly important for a college president.
Becoming KSU president comes at a fortuitous time for Olens. His daughter, Lauren, is on track to earn her MBA from KSU in December. Asked about his personal feelings regarding her graduation, Olens said he’s confident she’ll succeed.
“I need to make sure all the students succeed,” he said.
Sam Olens bio
Political affiliation: Republican
Emory University School of Law graduate 1983
Ezor & Olens, P.C. 1983-2010
Cobb County commissioner 1999-2002
Cobb County Commission Chairman 2002-2010
Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman 2004-2009
Georgia Attorney General 2011-present
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