Pressure on Olens to leave KSU


Pressure is being put, publicly and privately, on Sam Olens to leave his job as president of Kennesaw State University.

Olens took the job a year ago amid complaints by some that he got it through connections rather than qualifications, and he has faced criticism in recent weeks from some students, faculty, community leaders and free-speech advocates for several miscues, particularly his handling of a student protest.

Olens will be looking for another high-profile position in the next few weeks, according to an elected official and a senior government official with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because it is a personnel matter.

One official described it as a mutual agreement because “it’s not a good fit.” Another official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the AJC Wednesday that state Board of Regents members were “disappointed” by a recent state review that found fault in Olens’ response to the student protest. The official, though, was unaware of any effort by Regents to remove Olens. The board’s next meeting is Tuesday. State officials say the frustration also involves struggles to communicate and coordinate with members and staffers of the Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s higher education system.

Olens and University System of Georgia administrators declined comment, spokesmen said.

The Cobb County Southern Christian Leadership Conference talked about its displeasure with Olens on Wednesday. It held a news conference on the main KSU campus demanding he resign. Its leaders cited the state findings.

Olens “has proven to be unfit to lead this institution,” SCLC chapter president Ben Williams told reporters.

Olens is paid $435,832 in salary and benefits, the fifth-highest of any president in the university system. The Board of Regents typically reviews each president’s job performance before the end of the spring semester. He received a 1.5 percent increase in his base pay in May.

Olens, a former chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, resigned as the state’s Attorney General in November 2016 to take the job at KSU, one of the nation’s fastest-growing universities, which has an enrollment of about 35,000 students. That move, sanctioned by Gov. Nathan Deal, allowed Deal to appoint his protégé Chris Carr as Georgia’s top attorney.

Critics cited Olens’ political ties and lack of administrative experience on any college campus, and complained that he was the only candidate for the job. Supporters endorsed the hire, in part, because of those relationships and his reputation as a consensus builder.

Olens was reprimanded three weeks ago in a special state review the Board of Regents ordered, for failing to follow official guidance in dealing with five African-American 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 an AJC report that Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, boasted of having forced Olens to stop the young women from kneeling on the field.

“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. The disputes include Olens’ decision to remove the phrase “social justice” from some faculty job descriptions and plans to end its Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality degree, two years after receiving the largest single donor gift in the university’s history for the program.

Faculty members have asked Olens to answer an array of written questions about the protest and other campus issues. They also want a forum to discuss their concerns. Olens and his staff are working on responses, a faculty member told the AJC Wednesday.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Parent: ‘Failing’ charter school is not failing my kids
Parent: ‘Failing’ charter school is not failing my kids
Parent Beth McCamy wants to change the state’s definition of a failing charter school. Her two children attend Georgia Cyber Academy, which, with an enrollment of more than 14,000, is the state’s largest K-12 school. As with most online schools, Georgia Cyber Academy is struggling with the academic goals in its performance contract...
Fort Valley State employee resigns as sexual misconduct investigation continues
Fort Valley State employee resigns as sexual misconduct investigation continues

A Fort Valley State University official involved with a sorority at the center of an ongoing criminal investigation of sexual misconduct has resigned. The employee, Alecia Johnson, resigned last week, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News through the Georgia Open Records Act. The Georgia...
Starbucks exec to give Spelman College commencement address
Starbucks exec to give Spelman College commencement address

Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer will give the commencement speech at Spelman College, the college announced Thursday. Brewer graduated from Spelman in 1984, making her the first alumna to deliver the address since Marian Wright Edelman addressed the graduating class of 1988. Brewer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry...
Some DeKalb bus drivers want district to reverse sickout terminations
Some DeKalb bus drivers want district to reverse sickout terminations

About two dozen DeKalb school bus drivers and parents asked this morning that Superintendent Steve Green reinstate at least seven drivers fired for a sickout done to advocate for better pay and treatment. The sickout on April 19, 20 and 23 resulted in about 700 absences over the three days. School police officers delivered termination letters...
Atlanta area student named Technical College System of Georgia’s student of the year
Atlanta area student named Technical College System of Georgia’s student of the year

The Technical College System of Georgia on Wednesday named a student from Georgia Piedmont Technical College its 2018 student of the year. Crystal Wright, an interdisciplinary studies student, received the honor, titled the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership. She received a new, made-in-Georgia 2018 KIA Optima, courtesy of KIA Motors...
More Stories