- Meris Lutz The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A civil rights group on Wednesday called for the president of Kennesaw State University to resign or be removed over his handling of a student protest.
KSU President Sam Olens “has proven to be unfit to lead this institution,” Ben Williams of the Cobb branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference told reporters at a news conference on the university green.
Olens was reprimanded by the Board of Regents last month for failing to follow official guidance in response to five cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem at a Sept. 30 football game in protest, they said, of racism and inequality.
The inquiry into Olens’ actions was sparked by a report published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and State Rep. Earl Ehrhart boasted of having forced Olens to take action to stop the young women from kneeling.
“He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice,” Ehrhart wrote to Warren.
The Board of Regents found Olens ignored explicit instructions not to interfere with student athletes who take a knee during the anthem, and affirmed the gesture as an act of free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.
KSU has since reversed course, allowing cheerleaders onto the field for the anthem once more. But the fallout has placed more pressure on an already strained relationship between Olens and some faculty and students.
On Wednesday, Williams said Olens was “complicit in an illegal act that violated the First Amendment rights which are precious to all of us.”
“He should resign,” Williams said. “If he does not do that, the board should remove him.”
The AJC has reached out to Olens for comment and will update this story with any response.