The Board of Regents voted Oct. 12 to name Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens the next president of Kennesaw State University despite various protests and petitions.
One regent abstained from the vote, but all others ruled to appoint Olens for the position. He will begin his tenure as KSU’s fourth president on Nov. 1, six months after the resignation of former President Daniel S. Papp.
The decision came amid a string of student and faculty protests over the course of the last two weeks. During the Board of Regents meeting itself, students from KSU, Georgia State University and Columbus State University interrupted the board’s business to protest the vote.
The group stood up together and demanded a nationwide search, reciting lines as the chair of the board attempted to regain order in the room.
“We must love each other and protect each other!” the students shouted. “We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
The meeting adjourned for a five-minute recess, and the students continued to chant as they exited the meeting room, fists in the air.
Despite the student protest, the meeting reconvened, and the board voted hours later to appoint Olens as KSU’s next president without a national search for another candidate.
“Sam Olens’ two decades of public service and outstanding leadership qualities make him the right person to lead Kennesaw State University at the right time,” said Board of Regents Chairman Kessel Stelling, Jr. in a press release. “While Sam has successfully led a large workforce and managed a substantial operating budget, he also has a passion for KSU and public higher education.”
In an email to students, faculty and staff on Thursday, Olens promised to focus his efforts on the allocation of resources, improving graduation rates and increasing fundraising for scholarships.
“I know that you have many questions about how I plan to lead this university,” Olens said in the email. “As president, I strongly believe in mutual respect, open communication and tolerance.”
“We need to work together to find solutions that will enable Kennesaw State to continue to thrive,” he continued.
The decision received immediate backlash from students, faculty and alumni who have protested Olens’ appointment and petitioned the Board of Regents to conduct a national search for president. Immediately after the vote was taken, the faculty members present at the meeting walked out.
Students on the “Say No to Sam Olens” Facebook page are calling for further protests, and faculty members continue to stage sit-ins on The Green.
Board of Regents Chancellor Hank Huckaby — who asked the board to consider Olens in the first place — addressed the discontent after the vote was taken.
“We had a good candidate who is very well known and well-respected in the Cobb County and Kennesaw community, and we felt we didn’t need to go any further,” Huckaby said. “In this situation, we felt there were unique circumstances that would cause us to go the route that the the board did go.”
Huckaby also cited the cost of conducting a nationwide search, a price he estimated might range anywhere from $200,000 to $350,000, and said that such searches don’t always yield a promising candidate.
Valdosta State University, however, is currently in the middle of a national search for its next president, a process that began over the summer of this year.