Students, faculty members, staff and alumni rallied on The Green Oct. 3 to protest the prospective appointment of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens as Kennesaw State University’s next president.
Rumors of Olens’ appointment surfaced months ago, eliciting displeasure from KSU students and affiliates who demanded the Board of Regents conduct a nationwide search guided by a committee of students, faculty and alumni. The alleged confirmation of the rumors by the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s anonymous source on Sept. 27 sparked immediate outrage among members of the KSU community.
Protesters brandishing “Say No to Sam” signs voiced concerns over Olens’ stances on issues affecting LGBT students. Chief among them were Olens’ decision to join a lawsuit with 10 other states challenging a federal directive to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, as well as his defense of Georgia’s ban on gay marriage.
Jessica Fisher, a senior communication major and one of the organizers of the protest, worried that an Olens presidency might be detrimental to KSU’s inclusive environment.
“What we fear that it could mean is anything from more rigid rules around bathroom use, to taking away the budget from the LGBT center on campus, to taking away LGBT housing on campus,” Fisher said.
The phrase “national search” erupted several times throughout the protest. This referred to the Board of Regent’s decision not to conduct a national search for a new president or to appoint an institutional search committee to advise the board.
The Board of Regent’s policy manual states that neither a national search nor an institutional search committee is required, but they are decided upon at the discretion of the chancellor.
“When a vacancy occurs in a presidency, the chancellor shall consult with the chair to decide whether to conduct a national search,” the manual reads. “If a search is conducted, the chancellor in consultation with the chair may appoint an institutional search committee.”
The protest leaders encouraged the crowd to sign a petition created by Lane Hunter, a senior music education major, and Sarah Rose, a 2012 graduate of KSU. The petition — which had more than 6,000 signatures as of Monday — calls for the Board of Regents to reconsider Olens’ appointment and instead conduct a nationwide search for a president.
“Someone with a political background and a history of repressing the LGBT community, the transgender community and especially transgender students, does not deserve to be at the head of a university as amazing and prominent as Kennesaw State University,” Rose said.
Rose read aloud from an email University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby sent to the KSU community confirming that Olens is being seriously considered for the position.
“There has been speculation about this for some time, and up until now, I have remained silent on the matter,” Huckaby said in the email. “Initially, I was planning to conduct a national search to find the next president of Kennesaw State. Yet, through sincere and earnest conversations with Mr. Olens, I now believe he should be considered at this time.”
The Office of the President was not immediately available for comment.
The email stated that the Board of Regents’ Executive and Compensation Committee will be interviewing Olens on Oct. 4.