State officials ended months of speculation by announcing that Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens will interview Tuesday for the job of Kennesaw State University president.
The announcement, made by University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby, came within minutes of a previously scheduled midday rally attended by about 100 KSU students and faculty opposing Olens’ candidacy. The protesters cited Olens’ defense in court of Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban. More than 5,700 people have signed an online petition against Olens becoming KSU’s president. The list grew by about 250 names by Monday afternoon.
Lane Hunter, a transgender KSU senior who helped organize Monday’s demonstration and the online petition, said an Olens presidency would be “a step back” in contrast to the university’s increasing number of LGBTQ students. Hunter and some faculty believe the university needs a national search for president, saying Olens has no managerial experience in higher education.
“If we are to be taken seriously as a major university, which we now are, at 34,000 students, we deserve a national search,” Hunter said in an interview.
Olens, who has been attorney general since 2011, declined an interview request Monday.
University System officials initially said they wouldn’t comment on the speculation about Olens, but Huckaby did an about-face Monday after discussing the position with Olens.
Olens will meet in a closed-door session Tuesday afternoon with the Board of Regents’ Executive and Compensation Committee.
“Initially, I was planning to conduct a national search to find the next president of Kennesaw State,” Huckaby said in an email to KSU students and faculty. “Yet, through sincere and earnest conversations with Mr. Olens, I now believe he should be considered at this time.”
Olens’ potential departure from his current position could start a domino effect that could have an impact on several layers of state government and politics.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s office declined comment Monday, but as the Olens-to-KSU rumor has circulated for months, so too has speculation as to whom Deal might choose as Olens’ successor.
Those rumors have settled around state Economic Development commissioner Chris Carr, a former top aide to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Carr could not immediately be reached for comment.
Other names floated over the past several months include U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Deal executive counsel Ryan Teague, outgoing state Rep. B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn; Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, and Court of Appeals Judge Mike Boggs.
Hunter said the talk on campus is about Olens being considered because of his potential fundraising prowess.
Olens has deep roots in Cobb County, home of rapidly growing Kennesaw State. He served as a county commissioner for four years and then as the commission’s chairman from 2002 to 2010. KSU political science professor Kerwin Swint said Olens has spoken to American government classes and at various campus functions.
“He was an extremely good Cobb County chairman,” said Swint. “People who know and worked with him respected him, including myself.”
Dan Papp retired in June as the university’s president after an audit found he already had received more than $577,000 in retirement pay from the university’s foundation without notifying the state’s University System.
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