Kennesaw State University student government association president Matthew Hunnicutt. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM

KSU candidate wants to improve grad rates, opportunities for students

Pamela Whitten made her case in person Friday to students, staff and faculty about why she should be Kennesaw State University’s next president and noted some initial goals if she gets the job.

Whitten, named Tuesday by the state’s Board of Regents as the sole finalist for the position, visited both campuses, in Kennesaw and Marietta, where she answered written questions at standing room-only meetings.

Whitten, the University of Georgia’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said she wants to improve four-year graduation and retention rates, suggesting she might enact initiatives UGA is trying that allow students to simultaneously attain a bachelor’s and master’s degree. She also discussed filling the large void of deans leaving the university and improving transparency with faculty and students.

The university’s six-year graduation rate is 42 percent, according to federal data. Most schools measure graduation rates in six years.

KSU, the third-largest public university in the state, has been without a full-time president since former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens resigned in February after some campus controversies such as the university’s handling of national anthem protests by several African-American cheerleaders.

Whitten said she wants to enhance KSU’s standing in the Cobb County area by offering courses that meet the goals of the region’s economy.

“Kennesaw State University should be viewed as the gem of this region,” Whitten said.

The protests exposed a rift between many students who supported the cheerleaders and more conservative community leaders. Several questions focused on Whitten’s vision on campus governance, particularly on ensuring the voices of students and faculty are adequately heard.

Friday’s meetings were in sharp contrast to the selection process for Olens, who met with campus leaders after he was hired.

KSU student government association president Matthew Hunnicutt, 20, said if Whitten becomes president he hopes that she can better address those political minefields that put KSU in the national spotlight last school year. Hunnicutt, who organized a hour-long meeting with Whitten and nearly a dozen student government leaders on Friday, said they asked Whitten to improve the academic advisement process.

In all, Hunnicutt said “I was very impressed.”

No date has been set for when the regents will vote on Whitten’s candidacy, but the expectation is they’ll vote before the fall semester.