In response to KSU cheerleaders, Olens shows students their fears were justified

Five cheerleaders take a knee during the national anthem prior to the matchup between Kennesaw State and North Greenville, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (Special to AJC/by Cory Hancock)

When news broke a year ago that the Board of Regents intended to name Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to the presidency of Kennesaw State University, faculty and students expressed concern about a politician leading an institution of higher education. Olens had also been a former two-term chairman of Cobb County’s board of commissioners.

Turns out those fears were justified.

Today, the AJC’s Meris Lutz  reveals disturbing text exchanges between two conservative Cobb officials about the black KSU cheerleaders who chose to take a knee to highlight racism and injustice. Obtained through an Open Records request, the text messages suggest Olens caved to political pressure from the Cobb sheriff and a legislator known for using the state’s higher education system to score political points.

Lutz reported:

Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart boasted in a series of text messages about pressuring the president of Kennesaw State University into keeping the school’s cheerleaders off the field during the national anthem in response to several kneeling in protest.

The text messages, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained under the Open Records Act, appear to contradict the official story by university President Sam Olens that the decision to delay the timing of the cheerleaders’ entrance onto the field for football games was made by the athletic department and had nothing to do with the protest.

“Legally I’m not sure they can stop or do anything to stop someone from this Un America ACT [sic],” Warren wrote to Ehrhart.

In a different message, he reported that he had talked to Olens and been “assured” that the cheerleaders would not be on field until after the national anthem, which once had been the practice but at some point changed.

“Thanks for always standing up too [sic] these liberal that hate the USA,” Warren wrote to Ehrhart, who chairs the committee that allocates funds to public universities.

In a follow-up message, Ehrhart seemed to confirm that Olens had caved to pressure: “He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism my friend.”

In another text, Warren wrote, “Not letting the cheerleaders come out on the field until after national anthem was one of the recommendations that Earl and I gave him!”

At a KSU rally Monday in support of the cheerleaders, speakers defended the right of students to protest. The 100 students and professors at the event called upon Olens to stand up for his campus and the peaceful exercise of civil liberties.

The cheerleaders issued a joint statement today: “We are deeply disheartened by the revelations revealed in these messages. We were exercising our 1st amendment rights in the most American way possible. We took a knee for a purpose and we continue to kneel for this cause. These text messages only leave us with more questions on how the university handled this situation. We would hope the university would defend its’ students from political leaders. To this day, President Olens has not met or requested a meeting with us. We are owed a meeting and to have this matter addressed publicly.”

In his failure to defend the Kennesaw cheerleaders and in distancing himself from the decision to keep them off the field, Olens missed an opportunity to make all students on his campus feel respected and valued. He showed the good old boy system is alive and well at KSU, and that his decisions will be guided by politics rather than principles.

When Olens was being considered for the presidency, Humayun Zafar, president of the Faculty Senate, cited the faculty’s role in Kennesaw State University’s evolution from a junior college to a major research institution with more than 35,000 students.

“We hope whoever is the next president would recognize that and consult with us on matters,” said Zafar. “Shared governance allows us to have potentially tough conversations with the administration, which then results in us in truly being united.”

So much for shared governance and unity. What Olens has brought to KSU now is divisiveness and mistrust.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

119 comments
joasaf
joasaf

 At a KSU rally Monday in support of the cheerleaders, speakers defended the right of students to protest. The 100 students and professors at the event called upon Olens to stand up for his campus and the peaceful exercise of civil liberties. http://www.raisedaily.com/

Edens2105
Edens2105

KSU has actually gone downhill since Olen's took over. Student enrollment is down. Employee turnover rate is insanely high. Employees are getting fed up with the tight working conditions and MASSIVE pay inequities. Student's are also complaining that KSU's lost it's friendly family small-town atmosphere that it was so well known and loved for. Even worse, University leadership keeps cutting spending on events and activities for both employees and students. Ever since the university switched from being a Research University to a Compliance University, it's been all about following proper protocol, procedure, rules, and regulations. It's very politically influenced, which is disheartening.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Olens tried to put a political spin on this situation instead of being a leader.  If he could just hide the cheerleaders until the National Anthem was played, then he wouldn't have to take action.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Straddling the fence rarely has a good outcome.

If Olens were a true leader, the day after the kneeling fiasco, the cheerleaders would have been in Olens' office where he would have explained to them that as long as they wear the KSU uniform, they are representatives of the university and that the official position of the university is to treat the American Flag and the National Anthem with proper decorum and respect - which means, when the National Anthem is played, the squad is expected to face the American Flag and stand at attention with their right hand placed over their heart.  If the cheerleaders could not abide by that rule, then they should turn in their uniforms.

It's really that simple.

Starik
Starik

@Lee_CPA2  The whole mess is trivial. Do away with the ceremony and the cheerleaders. 

reallyerica
reallyerica

Simple, if your goal were to disregard the voice and rights of your students and to trample on The U.S. Constitution.

If he were a true leader, he would actively seek to inform himself and come to a right understanding of what the kneeling actually means. And, he would respond based on this right understanding and lead others to do the same.

Instead, he simply attempted to placate those people who have vehemently insisted on applying their own ironically twisted anti-patriot meaning to the kneeling.

Thank *goodness* he didn't make it mandatory that students honor this un-patriotic perspective to participate in sports!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/taking-a-knee-has-always-been-a-sign-of-reverence-not-disrespect/2017/09/28/8e91981e-a3c9-11e7-8cfe-d5b912fabc99_story.html?utm_term=.c71f2aa5c31c

reallyerica
reallyerica

Simple, if his goal were to disregard the rights and voice of his students and to trample on the U.S. Constitution.

If he were a true leader, he would actively seek to inform himself and come to a right understanding of what the kneeling actually means. And, he would respond based on this right understanding and lead others to do the same.

Instead, he simply attempted to placate those people who have vehemently insisted on applying their own ironically twisted anti-patriot meaning to the kneeling.

Thank *goodness* he didn't make it mandatory that students honor this un-patriotic perspective to participate in sports!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/taking-a-knee-has-always-been-a-sign-of-reverence-not-disrespect/2017/09/28/8e91981e-a3c9-11e7-8cfe-d5b912fabc99_story.html?utm_term=.c71f2aa5c31c

29003
29003

State election results plus plummeting circulation figures might alert any other newspaper its views are way out of line with public opinion.

Starik
Starik

@29003 If only the AJC had views; they never endorse politicians anymore.

DonJM
DonJM

In other words, Olens is a liar.

fairviewfarm
fairviewfarm

These women were wearing a uniform that came with defined duties.  They were representing the COLLEGE and not themselves and their individual personal opinions.  Take a knee and protest if you want, but do it on your own because it is YOUR decision to do that.  Not the college's.  Of course, that wouldn't have gotten them as much ATTENTION and FAME as what they did.  So their real goal is obviously clear.  I am really weary of people donning a uniform and using it as a shield so that they can protest whatever they PERSONALLY are against.  Not cool.  Not valid.  Not RIGHT. 

Astropig
Astropig

@fairviewfarm


Precisely. Kennesaw State is not obligated to endorse their views. If they did this as private citizens,no one would bat an eye.


Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@fairviewfarm

Exactly.  A point that several of us have made in this blog thread and the previous one.  But don't expect a response from Maureen.  I asked her a very simple question in the previous blog:  

"What would happen if these cheerleaders went to the 50 yard line and began giving the crowd the middle finger?  What about instead of kneeling, they gave the Nazi salute?  Do you still think that would be a "freedom of speech" issue?"

Still waiting on Maureen to respond to that.  I'm not holding my breath....

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Teacher @fairviewfarm

So, you don't think a college should be able to enact standards of conduct for those who represent the college in an official capacity?

Bryan Groves
Bryan Groves

Those are both, I believe, hate speech, which is not protected under the first amendment.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Bryan Groves

So then is raising your fist upright in the "black power" gesture also "hate speech"?  If not, why?

BruceWeaver
BruceWeaver

Am I to infer from this reporter's "balanced view" that this rises to the level of proof that Mr. Olens is unqualified for the job?

DonJM
DonJM

@BruceWeaver With no teaching experience and no experience in higher education, it's a pretty safe bet he is unqualified for the job.

SMCATL
SMCATL

@BruceWeaver This is an opinion piece written by a regular AJC columnist, not a news report.

BruceWeaver
BruceWeaver

@DonJM @BruceWeaver Why would teaching experience make him more or less qualified to be an administrator? Would he as a matter of course teach a class?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@BruceWeaver @SMCATL Yes. And delighted to have been named national Opinion Writer of the Year by the Education Writers Association in June.

BruceWeaver
BruceWeaver

@Mandingo666 @BruceWeaver Ah now I see. Newspaper opinion pieces do not require facts or proof just the ability to have it published. What makes this of greater value than the rants of any moron such as yourself.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@BruceWeaver @Mandingo666 I like facts, the more the better. And the facts in this case indicate Olens made a mistake. He is a new president of a campus attempting to grow in stature and diversity. What happened will further neither of those goals.

Starik
Starik

@BruceWeaver @MaureenDowney @Mandingo666  He's the school President, not a public school principal. He's political, but I can see where those contacts could be useful, more so than teaching experience. Building Kennesaw State into a real research university like Ga. State will take time, money and influence. Political influence. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@BruceWeaver @MaureenDowney @Mandingo666 

Sam Olens’ selling point was his political background. His weakness was his lack of any experience in academia or running anything comparable in size to a state university. One in four college president today comes from a background outside academia, and those leaders have mixed success, often because they don’t understand the unique nature of a university. It remains true that if you look at leaders who transformed their campuses, almost all of them came from faculty ranks. And that includes Carl Patton at GSU and Mary Sue Coleman at Michigan.

BruceWeaver
BruceWeaver

@MaureenDowney @BruceWeaver @Mandingo666 I haven't the facts so I cannot rebut. However I can say that without political clout and the confluence of a weak downtown real estate market  GSU would not have transformed as you call it.

futuresys1
futuresys1

We do not attend football games or other recreational activities to be subjected to political protests, whether we agree with them or not.

One reason we do go is to escape the constant politics everywhere else.

If the cheerleaders or football players cannot wait until they are on their own time to protest, throw them off of the team.

Good job Olens!

TayWitty521
TayWitty521

@futuresys1  If there should be escapism when going to a football game, then why have the national anthem at all? Isn't that a political statement in and of itself? There's literally no need to have the national anthem played at sporting events. 

futuresys1
futuresys1

@Starik @futuresys1 @TayWitty521 So, the flag and National Anthem are not for all people of all parties?

Trumpophobics become blind to all rational thought when it comes to anything he says or does.

futuresys1
futuresys1

My final word on this; what would your company do if your boss was was touring a group of customers around your building and you chose to take a knee and hold up a fist in the lobby of your building in front of the customers?

Bryan Groves
Bryan Groves

@futuresys 1 There is no rational thought in anything he says and does.