Kennesaw State profs sound an early alarm about a Sam Olens takeover

Attorney General Sam Olens. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Attorney General Sam Olens. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

For now, the possibility that Attorney General Sam Olens could take the helm of Kennesaw State University is nothing but a rumor, neither confirmed nor denied. But some leading faculty at the troubled university have sounded an early alarm.

It started with a May letter from Humayun Zafar, president of KSU’s faculty Senate, and Andrew Pieper, head of the campus chapter  of the American Association of University Professors. It urged the Board of Regents to endorse a nationwide search led by a committee of faculty, alumni, students and community leaders. Consider it a preemptive strike against a quick appointment of a politician. Regents chair Kessel Stelling answered with a polite, but non-committal, response.

Then, on Sept. 2, came a more forceful note from Zafar informing the Regents that the faculty Senate “strongly supports a national search” for the school’s next president.

Six days later was the sharpest blow yet, a dispatch from Pieper. He said Olens is a man of high integrity with deep community ties, but said the chance that he could be tapped to lead the sprawling Cobb County school without going through a nationwide search is “disturbing on multiple levels.”

“First, such an appointment would circumvent the norms of larger institutions of higher education. Such an appointment would apparently be made without any formal input from faculty, staff, students, or trustees of KSU,” he wrote in the letter, which you can find here. “Second, such an appointment would seemingly import to Georgia a troubling trend of making institutions of higher education subject to political machination, which as our letter this summer discussed, has had negative ramifications at virtually all institutions where it has occurred.”

Olens has stayed mum on whether he will step down this year to take the reins of the school, which has faced troubling financial questions that emerged just as the former president retired. The Board of Regents has declined comment, too. Rumors are swirling still at the Capitol, and even Olens’ decision to return a portrait of himself prompted a new wave of speculation.

The faculty pushback is not unexpected, and some Capitol wags have prepared for it. Their argument goes something like this: Putting a politically-connected Republican like Olens atop Kennesaw State will help the school secure more state dollars and grant funding while restoring confidence in KSU’s leadership. A provost from academia – Zafar said the faculty enthusiastically endorse current KSU provost Ken Harmon – would run the day-to-day operations.

Pieper, for his part, made clear he has nothing against Olens, a second-term Attorney General who was previously chair of Cobb County’s commission. But he said in an interview that he is concerned that Olens’ appointment could set a unsettling precedent for future presidential searches.

“Faculty understand that these decisions come from higher levels and we welcome the opportunity to work with Sam Olens or whoever is chosen president,” said Pieper, a political science professor. “But our concern lies more with communication and process than with the individual who is ultimately chosen president.”

Read more about the Olens rumors – and who might replace him – right here.


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