Olens not ‘eligible to be a faculty member’
Kennesaw State University appears poised to name Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to replace Dan Papp as school president, a move that’s drawn protest from students and faculty upset over his LGBT rights record.
But the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported on Sept. 27 that the move was a done deal after months of rumors swirling around the Capitol. And an AJC report on Oct. 4 said that Olens was indeed the only candidate for the position. The state Board of Regents was scheduled to vote on the matter on Oct. 12 and the results were not available as of press time.
Students and faculty are upset not only by the lack of input on the matter from either group, but also by Olens’ stances on marriage equality and transgender rights as attorney general. He famously decided to fight a Lambda Legal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014, saying marriage equality is not a “fundamental right.” And this May he joined Georgia with 10 other states in a lawsuit fighting the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students.
Students create petition, on-campus rally
For Lane Hunter, a current KSU student who is transgender, the opposition to Olens becoming president is primarily about experience, followed by his LGBT rights record.
“We do not want or need a politician in office,” Hunter tells the Georgia Voice. “We need an educator with managerial experience and higher education experience, and one who is accepting of all students.”
Hunter, along with transgender KSU alumnus Sarah Rose, created an online petition in response to the news about Olens, demanding a national search be conducted to fill the position. The petition has garnered over 16,000 supporters as of press time.
October 14, 2016
Hunter holds out hope that Houston Davis will remain as interim school president while a search is done.
“Olens is welcome to apply as well, and if he happens to be the best candidate, so be it. But now he’s not even a ‘candidate,’” Hunter says. “He’s being moved to this position. He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it.”
Rose and Jessica Fisher, a transgender KSU student, also organized an Oct. 4 on-campus protest against the move.
Scott Ritchie, a queer KSU faculty member, echoes Hunter’s concerns about Olens’ background and LGBT record.
“All 28 public colleges and universities in Georgia have a president with an academic background. Each president holds a doctorate and is qualified to be a faculty member at his/her institution. The vast majority of these presidents went through a hiring process that included a national search. Those that did not served first as interim president and then were appointed,” Ritchie tells the Georgia Voice. “Sam Olens does not have an academic background, nor does he hold a doctorate. He would not be eligible to be a faculty member because of this. Olens was tapped to be appointed behind closed doors without input from faculty, staff, students, alumni, or community members. This threatens KSU’s overall accreditation as well as the accreditation of certain colleges such as education.”
Ritchie adds that Olens’ lawsuit against the transgender directive and opposition to same-sex marriage puts in danger the strides the school has made regarding LGBT rights, including having a presidential commission on LGBT initiatives (which Olens would
By PATRICK SAUNDERS
oversee as president) and being the first university in Georgia to have gender neutral campus housing.
“I have heard from over 300 full-time faculty who are opposed to Olens’ appointment. When the faculty senate recently polled departments whether they believe the Board of Regents should conduct a national search, over 25 departments conducted the poll. Each department polled reported that the majority of faculty said yes,” says Ritchie, who is the professional liaison for diversity at the school’s College of Education. “Over 50 faculty and administrators attended the student rally ... to show support for LGBTQ students. I support the students’ efforts and will continue to work with them as we move forward.”
For now, Ritchie, Hunter and other LGBT students, faculty and allies can only wait in anticipation of what the Board of Regents decides on the matter on Oct. 12.