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University of Georgia official named lone finalist to lead Kennesaw State 

The Board of Regents apparently learned something from the Sam Olens debacle at Kennesaw State University and chose someone with an academic background this time around. 

University of Georgia official Pamela Whitten is the sole finalist for Kennesaw State University presidency, and she brings a strong academic and research background. 

She is now senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia, a position she has held since 2014. The Regents are expected to cast a final vote on Whitten after a campus visit where she will meet with faculty and staff.

Former Attorney General Sam Olens resigned as KSU’s president in February after a tumultuous 16-month tenure.  Faculty and staff complained they were not consulted in the hiring of Olens and pushed for a replacement with academic experience and a background in research.

Their concerns were heard. 

“Dr. Whitten has great depth as an academic leader, both in her training as a scholar and experience as a faculty member and administrator. She brings exceptional understanding of how to run large, complex institutions in both public higher education and the University System of Georgia,” Chancellor Steve Wrigley said. “She is strongly committed to student success and engaging key stakeholders and understands the pivotal role public universities play in fostering educational attainment and economic development. Dr. Whitten has demonstrated enthusiasm for this important role. I want to thank members of KSU’s presidential search and screen committee for their hard work and look forward to working with Dr. Whitten and the entire KSU community.”

According to the Regents: 

As UGA’s chief academic officer, Whitten oversees instruction, research, public service and outreach, student affairs and information technology — a portfolio that includes 17 schools and colleges with 37,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Among other initiatives, UGA during her tenure hired 56 new faculty to reduce class sizes for undergraduates, increased external research support 37 percent, added 30 endowed chairs and professorships and increased summer enrollment by 25 percent. 

The campus launched a new learning requirement to give undergraduates out-of-classroom experience through internships, research and other forms of experiential learning. According to the 2018 U.S. News and World Report rankings, UGA over the past three years has jumped from #21 to #16 among the top public universities in the nation.

Prior to joining UGA, Whitten’s career included working as director for telemedicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center before she joined the faculty at Michigan State University, where she worked her way up through the faculty ranks before eventually serving as dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

She is an internationally recognized expert in the field of telemedicine — the remote delivery of health care services and information — and has conducted research with nearly $30 million in funding from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has co-authored two books and published more than 100 peer-reviewed research articles and book chapters.

“Kennesaw State already enjoys a proud and storied history, and I am excited by this opportunity to take one of the nation’s great public universities to new heights,” Whitten said. “Together, we can expand successful outcomes and meaningful learning experiences for all students, boost faculty research and provide greater outreach services to improve the quality of life for citizens locally and beyond. I look forward to the opportunity to share my story with the KSU community and share KSU’s story with Georgia and the world.”

Whitten holds a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in organizational communication from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s degree in management from Tulane University. Among other organizations, she sits on the boards of the UGA Athletics Association, UGA Foundation, Georgia Museum of Art and Georgia Humanities.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.