After a University System of Georgia report that accused Kennesaw State University President Sam Olens of failing to follow orders concerning the handling of student protests, Olens announced Thursday he is resigning effective Feb. 15.
KSU Provost Ken Harmon will serve as interim president while the University System conducts a national search for Olens’ replacement.
The Board of Regents’ review into KSU was launched following the university’s decision to keep five cheerleaders who kneeled in protest during the national anthem at a Sept. 30 home game off the field before kickoff in subsequent matchups.
Olens, the former Cobb commission chairman turned Georgia Attorney General, was named by the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents to replace former President Dan Papp in November 2016. Papp stepped down in June 2016 after it was discovered he violated University System compensation policies during his time at the helm.
The lone candidate for the job, Olens was appointed to the role without a national search. He arrived on KSU’s campus to protests from students and faculty members who had concerns about someone outside the world of academia being brought in to lead the state’s third largest university.
Opponents also questioned decisions he made on behalf of the state while serving as attorney general. Concerns raised by some members of KSU’s LGBT community included Olens’ stance on transgender students’ use of public school restrooms and marriage equality.
“Challenges to the institution were evident as I began my tenure and these trials, coupled with internal trepidations, made for a very difficult start,” Olens said in a statement announcing his resignation.
Controversy found Olens again this fall when five black cheerleaders kneeled during the playing of the national anthem at a KSU home football game as a way to protest social injustice. The cheerleaders were kept in the locker room tunnel before subsequent games, a decision that drew the ire of the Board of Regents, which conducted its review into the university’s handling of the matter. That review revealed Olens had been told before-hand to notify the board of any policy changes aimed at curbing student protests, but did not.
Olens maintained the decision to keep the cheerleaders off the field was not his own, but one made by members of the university’s athletics department. The president again made headlines when it came to light he had been urged to keep the cheerleaders off the field in a series of text messages from Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs.
After reversing course and allowing the cheerleaders back onto the field for the playing of the anthem, the president admitted he could have handled the situation better.
“We don’t get to pick and choose laws. You’ve got to support the First Amendment,” Olens said last month. “My mistake was not rescinding it right then.”
Reaction to Thursday’s news was mixed, with several community leaders voicing support for Olens and others calling his resignation long overdue.