Regents chairman C. Thomas Hopkins offered congratulatory remarks Thursday, as did University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, a Cobb Republican, indirectly addressed the situation when he referenced “rough waters” in his speech, but said KSU is in good hands with Olens, a longtime friend.
“I’ve never seen anyone more honest than Sam Olens,” Tippins said.
About a handful of students knelt during the anthem at the investiture ceremony Thursday before filing out in silence. They were joined by several hundred demonstrators who occupied the campus green for the reception afterward, which Olens did not attend. Chanting protesters competed for attention with a marching band and a jazz troupe playing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” as students and faculty milled about tents offering food and refreshments.
Dania Luc, a student activist, addressed the protesters through a megaphone.
“For those of you who are scared to take a knee, wear your t-shirts or wave your signs, I want you to understand that Kennesaw State is a public institution,” she said.
She also criticized the regents for not conducting an open search to find KSU’s president when they hired Olens in October 2016, saying the position should not be a “consolation prize” or a “political favor.”
A university spokesperson said Olens was not available for comment.
Olens now finds himself caught between two sides: conservative officials and members of the community who accuse the cheerleaders and their supporters of disrespecting the flag and the military, and students and faculty who consider him a political pawn.
So far, the cloud over his young presidency shows no sign of lifting. Student organizers are already planning a demonstration at Saturday’s football game.
Georgia State University public policy professor emeritus Harvey Newman said Olens’ longstanding ties with Cobb and state leaders will likely help him during the board review. Olens previously served as Cobb County Chairman and state attorney general.
“He’s been one of them. He’s in good stead,” Newman said. “I don’t think he would have gotten the job without those relationships.”