Sam Olens will soon be out as Kennesaw State University president.
His announcement on Thursday to resign came as welcome news for some in the school’s community.
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In his resignation letter directed to faculty, students and staff, Olens acknowledged he was hired as “a non traditional candidate” and said he’d had a “difficult start” at the school.
Controversy seemed to surround Olens since his arrival on campus.
He was greeted by protests, and faculty members filed an Equal Employment Opportunity lawsuit last fall after he was hired. The lawsuit opposed the school’s lack of transparency in selecting Olens, who had little experience working in education.
Valerie Dibble, an art professor at the university, was one of the faculty members who supported the federal complaint.
“You have somebody that was just chosen for the job instead of an open search that included minorities and women,” Dibble said.
Susan Raines teaches conflict management at the university. She said Olens’ hire was a political move.
“Sam Olens has always worked for the Republican Party, as a candidate for attorney general, as the Cobb County commissioner and then eventually as the president of KSU,” she said. “And so when the Republican Party stalwarts said ‘do this,’ he did.”
That wasn’t the end of the controversy of Olens’ time at KSU.
This football season, university cheerleaders knelt in protest during the national anthem. Then, they were barred from being on the field until kickoff.
A story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed a series of text messages between Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and influential state Republican lawmaker Earl Ehrhart discussing putting pressure on Olens and suggesting the cheerleaders’ removal until after game kickoffs.
In his resignation letter, Olens didn’t reference his role in removing football cheerleaders from view after their kneeling.
The move to keep them off the field led to weeks of campus protests. At the time, Olens said the school’s athletics department had made the decision.
But Aleaka Cooper, a student at KSU, was one of many who voiced skepticism.
“I don’t buy that at all because all of a sudden after they take a knee, now they can’t be seen on the field,” she said.
In a statement, the university system agreed student speech should not be interfered with.
A little more than 13 months after his hire and a few weeks after the cheerleader protest debacle, some faculty members gathered at Dry County Brewing, just down the street from campus, to celebrate Olens’ departure. They cheered to the future and sang the school alma mater over happy hour drinks.
“This is one of the most glorious days in the history of Kennesaw,” said Anne Richards, an English professor at KSU. “The faculty, students and staff have shown that this is a serious university where process matters. We deserve a national search, and we’re gonna get one.”
Olens, state Rep. Ehrhart and Sheriff Warren declined comment on this story.
Ken Harmon, university provost and vice president for academic affairs, will be the interim president.
Olens’ resignation is effective Feb. 15.
Note of disclosure: Kennesaw State University is an underwriter for WABE