Opinion: Choosing Olens to lead Kennesaw State University is part of GOP agenda

Lucas Carpenter is the Candler Professor Emeritus of English at Oxford College of Emory University. In this column, he assails the appointment of former Attorney General Sam Olens as president of Kennesaw State University, a political choice by the governor that has riled some students and faculty. (A petition calling for a national search for the KSU president garnered 16,599 signatures as of Monday night.)

During his 30 years at Oxford, Carpenter won the Fleming Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Phi Theta Kappa Teaching Award. He was named a Fulbright Distinguished Senior Scholar in 1999, and in 2003 he was awarded Emory University’s Scholar/Teacher of the Year award. He was also Oxford’s first faculty member to be named Charles Howard Candler Professor. A Vietnam War veteran, Carpenter earned a Bronze Star.

By Lucas Carpenter

One important but little-mentioned aspect of Sam Olens’ recent appointment as president of Kennesaw State University by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents is how it plays into a larger Republican effort to control and influence higher education in America.

Sam Olens

Sam Olens is the new president of Kennesaw State University.

Republicans have long maligned American colleges and universities as bastions of liberalism that preach political correctness, climate change, evolution, and socialism. They also fear that the emphasis on critical thinking– one of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education–will make students lose faith in their religion and undermine many of the beliefs and practices of political conservatism.

Instances of this national offensive on higher education abound, but two recent examples in South and North Carolina effectively illustrate it.

First of all, in 2014 the Republican dominated Board of Trustees of the venerable College of Charleston overruled the recommendations of a committee tasked with conducting a national search for a new college president. Over the objections of many faculty, students, and alumni, the trustees appointed former South Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Glenn W. McConnell as the new president.

His appointment was opposed because of the lack of transparency in his selection, the fact that, like Olens, he has no experience in higher education, and because McConnell is a self-styled Neo-Confederate who led the fight in the state Legislature to keep the Confederate flag flying over the state capitol. He is also known for his propensity for dressing as a Confederate general during historical recreations as well as on other occasions, and for his far right-wing brand of conservatism.

Likewise, in 2015 the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors, composed largely of Republicans, conducted a highly secretive and chaotic search to replace the highly regarded Tom Ross, who had recently been fired by the Board for no apparent reason other than vacating the office for a Republican appointee. The search yielded up only one candidate, former George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, best known for her employment by for-profit colleges and a student loan collection agency and for her perceived anti-LGBT agenda, exemplified by her attempt to prevent PBS from airing a cartoon portraying a same-sex couple.

And like Olens, her appointment continues to be opposed by faculty and students, both for its lack of transparency and for her LGBT beliefs, which Olens seems to share based on his record as attorney general. However, she enjoys the full support of Gov. Pat McCrory (he of “bathroom bill” fame) who has slashed the budget for the university system and sees no problem with privatizing higher education. He also doesn’t want students wasting their money on courses that don’t lead directly to employment. According to McCrory, “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it, but I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

The controversial appointment of Sam Olens as KSU president should be seen in light of these examples of Republican interference with higher education, to which it bears striking similarities. Increasing control of higher education may not be written into the Republican agenda, but in this case actions do speak louder than words.

 

Reader Comments 0

92 comments
FreeTheAtlantaJournal
FreeTheAtlantaJournal

I agree that the process was flawed. The Chancellor did not do Sam Olens any favors making him the target of both the faculty and a contemptible gang of name callers, small in number but loud in volume, who did not wait to slander him without any reason.  Some at KSU wrote that they were "proud" of the name callers, and where is that sainted tolerance and diversity that is so much a religion now at KSU.  

Chattooga57
Chattooga57

The criticism of Sam Olens is by people who know only the political image and do not know him, his background or his world view. They may be pleasantly surprised if they give him a chance. 

Concerns about the process are another matter, but now that it is done, give Sam a chance to prove himself.

liberal4life
liberal4life

@Chattooga57 

An open national search in which he was a candidate would have given him the opportunity to show everyone who he is and what he stands for.

AugustusMcCrae16
AugustusMcCrae16

It's not critical thinking we fear, Professor.  It's the safe spaces, bring in counselors for students after someone wrote "Trump" in sidewalk chalk mentality of the radical academic left.  


Your theme about Deal, Olens and the goal of putting conservatives into academic positions has merit.  Vague and unsubstantiated projection of conservative aims, and a laughably prolonged comparison to the entirely dissimilar McConnell, weakens your argument. 


In truth, your article is precisely why Deal sought Olens for that job. An accomplished academic, your writing is nonetheless intellectually dishonest to serve your own ideological leanings.

he_of_stinky_wind
he_of_stinky_wind

Lucas Carpenter thank you for your service.


Elections have consequences.  Shut up and deal with it.  Isn't that the Obama way?



Infraredguy
Infraredguy

So the Liberals want to keep their hold on Higher Education? no surprise there, they want the cushy jobs where there is no accountability and they can't get fired. Colleges are bastions for Bureaucrats with never ending cries for more public money to enrich themselves while fleecing the students and their parents with fees way above the real cost of an education. For every new Public dollar that goes to colleges, they increase their tuition by 3 dollars. Maybe Owens can bring the cost at KSU back in line and if he does that, he will have earned his pay

Under-Educated White Guy
Under-Educated White Guy

@Infraredguy You're obviously not a critical thinker.  You sound like somebody who does not have a college education.  


Can you cite your source for "for every new public dollwr that goes to colleges, they increase their tuition by 3 dollars", and please don't say Fox News.

old lanier poet
old lanier poet

wow more of those good old boy back room politics by the do nothing repubs 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Remember the Republican leader in Georgia's legislative body who resigned so that he could be placed in a profitable position in Georgia's public television where he had no experience? That lasted about 2 years. I will say no more but I am thinking and comparing.

General Concern
General Concern

And to think I thought that academia was hostile to anyone not of their ilk. 


Make no mistake, opposition to Olens is about control of higher education. Maintaining a near monopoly, so to speak.

Michael2255
Michael2255

One entry level philosophy class where St. Thomas Aquinas proved the existence of God was all I needed to realize there is no god.  The topic was logic and tautologies.  So yes, reading and critical thinking is (are?) dangerous.

class80olddog
class80olddog

It sounds like from this author and other Olens detractors that the primary requirement for President of a college is the adherence to allowing men and women to use the same restroom.

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

Good, ideological purity, reactionary and conservative credentials are all that matter when selecting and appointing individuals who will adhere as closely to the Reagan legacy and spirit as possible. That is the test, no RINOS.

Astropig
Astropig

@Gunluvr


Could you please cite an instance where Mr. Olens has been a reactionary conservative? Just one?

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

@Astropig @Gunluvr No, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he'll fulfill his role and confront the radical/leftists undermining KSU's mission of traditional education and roll back their toxic indoctrination of young minds.

old lanier poet
old lanier poet

@Gunluvr  yes because we have seen these past years just how good they have been for the working men and women of Georgia right???? all hat and no cattle they are

ShutYourMouth
ShutYourMouth

Fine then. Maureen Downey and Prof. Carpenter: I fully expect both of you to support Josh McKoon publicly, since he is literally the only legislator at the Capitol who is fighting to address the corruption and cronyism that lead to the situation you are now whining about. The reason this appointment was made was because Nathan Deal is petrified of Josh McKoon becoming Attorney General and using the power of the office to prosecute Deal for all his misdeeds. Now Josh has to run against an incumbent Chris Carr in 2018, and anyone familiar with campaigns and elections knows it's next to impossible to unseat a well-funded incumbent. And you know Carr will be well funded with Isakson and Deal donors.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Many of these disturbed members of academia will remain employed due to Olen's connections and his ability to raise private dollars and to obtain funding from the BOR/legislature.


But they will either ignore that or be unable to recognize it. That is why some decisions are left to the grown-ups.

Astropig
Astropig

@RoyalDawg


Pre-judging a law abiding man based on his race,political affiliations or beliefs. How is this better than Jim Crow? How is it any different?

30303
30303

A professor of English who can't resist politicizing an appointment at another college?

No wonder liberal arts colleges like Emory are so often viewed as little more than liberal boot camps.

Blue Ridge Matt
Blue Ridge Matt

@30303 Very much agreed there. Have a friend who went from being a centrist to a far left near-communist after he attended Emory's theological school. 

jezel
jezel

One thing is for sure....Olens is in for an unpleasant life. The faculty does not want him....the students do not want him....so just who is he going to LEAD.

lfelton
lfelton

@jezel Some faculty don't want him. Some students don't want him. The petition is on social media and doesn't represent the student body or the state of Georgia. 

Astropig
Astropig

@ShutYourMouth @jezel


"Most of the people who have a problem with this have no affiliation with the school whatsoever."


Like the author of this editorial.

ShutYourMouth
ShutYourMouth

@jezel I attended a number of alumni events last week (it was KSU Homecoming week) and every time Olens was brought up, it was to praise and welcome him. I never heard any boos, I never heard anyone make a backhanded comment. The people involved with the university are on board and willing to give Sam a chance. Most of the people who have a problem with this have no affiliation with the school whatsoever.

Blue Ridge Matt
Blue Ridge Matt

@Astropig @ShutYourMouth @jezel Ding! Having attended KSU, as well as having worked with Mr. Olens through one of the offices at KSU, I feel his appointment will end up being good. He is well-connected with Marietta, and has a good relationship with the MDJ (which the AJC loathes). 

Falcaints
Falcaints

This is the last gasp for the Republicans and they know it.  The demographics are changing and they are helpless to do anything about it.  Deal came into the office in bankruptcy and will leave with millions.  Who knew being Governor was so profitable.

lfelton
lfelton

@Falcaints Or Secretary of State. He actually had a business he invested in with his daughter who filled for bankruptcy. 

Astropig
Astropig

@Falcaints


"This is the last gasp for the Republicans and they know it.  "


You're usually not this funny on purpose.

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

@Falcaints @Astropig Demographics are irrelevant when a political party can only win about 38 out of 159 counties.

Astropig
Astropig

@ShutYourMouth @Astropig @Falcaints


47% of hispanics voted for Nathan Deal in 2014. That percentage will go up into the high 50's -low 60's if Casey Cagle gets the nomination for the Republicans in'18.


Democrats reliance on hollering racism as a substitute for real policy has made enemies of many more people than just straight,white people.


But shhhh,don't tell them.I WANT them to keep calling every other group an ugly name.

Another comment
Another comment

It is also the Big donations by the Koch Brothers. I went to both a Private School and a Public University they have bothe received major endowments by the Koch brothers. For the economics and Business departments. To out right influence that Reblubican economics are taught.

The list goes on of other schools where the Koch brothers or their close circle have made donations to influence the instruction.

lfelton
lfelton

@RoyalDawg @Another comment It's funny how the Left conveniently forgot how many millions Soros and others of his ilk fund their leftist causes. Laughable 

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

@Another comment The Koch's at Kennesaw? Delusional much?


I think you got confused about which blog you were on. You confused the Kochs with George Soros funding Black Lives Matter!!!

lfelton
lfelton

@Another comment Her we go. If Liberals aren't blaming Bush their blaming the Koch brothers. Yet, they are silent on 10s of millions they donate to hospitals and Liberal causes in New York that are never publicized.  

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Kennesaw is a mess, hence the appointment of the highest-ranking law-enforcement officer in Georgia to the Presidency. Olens was the best choice at this time, considering the current condition of the school.


Faculties at these schools are generally to the left of left; they do not understand that managing a college with tens of thousands of children (and they are) is a radically different job than teaching; the Provost is their representative on the "management team".


I appreciate Carpenter's Vietnam service and bet he is a fine educator; this job requires a professional manager. Carpenter demonstrates the whininess of academia, as can you imagine any other profession that would tolerate an employee protesting his CEO in the newspaper? His thoughts would have been more appropriately expressed in one of Kennesaw's "safe zones".

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

@HeyThere @RoyalDawg I'm sure Carpenter is tenured, so he feels enabled. There is a constitutional right to speech, but there is no constitutional protection from the consequences.


I know first-hand that most students are children in larger bodies. That's why we have "safe zones" to protect their tender sensibilities. Most have some harsh realities to face in the real world, as would these professors if they ventured out into it.


As a corporate veteran, I assure you that CEO's are hired from other industries every day, most notably John Sculley from Pepsico to Apple.


Educators fill a very important role, but managing an institution requires a completely different set of skills. The Provost, a member of the President's Cabinet, manages the educators much like a subordinate would likely manage manufacturing, or operations, or finance, for a corporate CEO.


On the Kennesaw issue, as well as the Governor's OSD Amendment, educators, who are valuable in their setting, constantly overstate their knowledge of these issues. College administrators often make decisions that are opposed by faculty due to their ignorance of the big picture.

Astropig
Astropig

@erschroedinger @RoyalDawg


I agree that it is a public university,which means that it has to serve every race,color,creed and political persuasion,because it takes public money.It can't just cater to the wishes of a particular political philosophy.Deal with it.

Astropig
Astropig

@liberal4life @RoyalDawg


The former president left under an ethics and financial cloud...Conflicts of interests violations were uncovered in the foodservice division,the softball coach was fired for inappropriate relationships with players.


How could Olens do any worse? KSU was run by a liberal before and nobody on here talks about how he made a hash of the job.

ShutYourMouth
ShutYourMouth

@HeyThere @RoyalDawg Carpenter works for Emory, a private school, so he could very well be fired for his opinion. He won't be, since his criticism is regarding a separate institution. 

ShutYourMouth
ShutYourMouth

@Astropig @liberal4life @RoyalDawg That's because Papp didn't make a 'hash' of the job, he actually shepherded KSU through some of the biggest change it has experienced in 50 years. He did a great job as President. The financial issues were due to misunderstandings about how and when he could access money that was owed to him anyway. The problem was with how he accessed/received it. And the problems in the foodservice division, come on, I've seen much worse in other Georgia universities. You're going to have issues with large organizations, and KSU is now the third largest university in the state. The softball coach? Well, let's just say the Athletic Director is under scrutiny and will likely be replaced soon as well. The issues are being resolved even before Olens arrives, and they weren't as tremendous as the AJC and Maureen Downey would like everybody to believe.

Astropig
Astropig

@ShutYourMouth @Astropig @liberal4life @RoyalDawg


The former president was a good liberal...And a crook.


Audits have found many skeletons that fell out of the closet when he departed.


But don't take my word for it-

Google "Kennesaw State Scandal". A lot of the articles were in the AJC (although not in this space)

erschroedinger
erschroedinger

@RoyalDawg First, this is a PUBLIC university.  That means the employees have constitutional freedom of speech that the government cannot infringe upon. Second, how many corporations would hire a CEO who had no experience in industry?  That's what Olens is -- a CEO with no experience in academia.


HeyThere
HeyThere

@RoyalDawg College students are not children in any sense of the word. You're also implying Carpenter should be fired for his comments, which because KSU is public would violate the Constitution.