Has Sam Olens lost credibility to lead KSU after misstep on cheerleader protest?

Five KSU 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)

The AJC is reporting that Kennesaw State University President Sam Olens may be out of a job as a result of a bungled response to the cheerleaders who took a knee on the football field.

According to the news story:

Olens will be looking for another high-profile position in the next few weeks, according to an elected official and a senior government official with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because it is a personnel matter.

Faculty and student protested when Chancellor Hank Huckaby tapped Olens to lead KSU last year. While a longtime resident of Cobb County, an attorney and a popular Republican politician, Olens did not bring any academic or higher education background to the job of running the 35,000-student campus. (He did bring Gov. Nathan Deal’s endorsement.)

That lack of experience showed, most notably in his response to the KSU cheerleaders who took a knee on the field in late September during the national anthem to protest racism and racist policing. Olens knows the law on free speech on public campuses; he was the Georgia attorney general. Yet, he appears to have capitulated to political pressure within the county in the decision — blamed on the KSU athletic department — to yank the cheering squad off the field during the anthem.

KSU President Sam Olens may be out of a job.

His actions drew censure from the Board of the Regents, a conservative panel appointed by the governor. Regent posts have long been used to reward generous political donors, so the Regents are not radicals by anyone’s definition. However, they know state policy and expect their college presidents to follow it.

As the AJC reported today in a story by Greg Bluestein, Eric Stirgus and Meris Lutz:

Olens was reprimanded three weeks ago in a special state review the Board of Regents ordered, for failing to follow official guidance in dealing with five African-American cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem at a Sept. 30 football game in protest, they said, of racism and inequality.

The inquiry into Olens‘ actions was sparked by an AJC report that Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, boasted of having forced Olens to stop the young women from kneeling on the field.

“He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice, ” Ehrhart wrote to Warren.

The Board of Regents found Olens ignored explicit instructions not to interfere with student athletes who take a knee during the anthem, and affirmed the gesture as an act of free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

KSU has since reversed course, allowing cheerleaders onto the field for the anthem once more. But the fallout has placed more pressure on an already strained relationship between Olens and some faculty and students.

For those of you who argue students don’t have the right to kneel, look at the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled students could wear black armbands to school, saying the armbands were not disruptive, did not impinge upon the rights of others and were within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

As the ruling stated:

First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.

While the Tinker case involved an armband protest of the Vietnam war, the ruling appears relevant to students who take a knee, especially this:

A student’s rights, therefore, do not embrace merely the classroom hours. When he is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he may express his opinions, even on controversial subjects like the conflict in Vietnam, if he does so without “materially and substantially interfer[ing] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” and without colliding with the rights of others.

Reader Comments 0

63 comments
DogStinger
DogStinger

“Isn’t it weird that in our beloved America that our flag and our culture seem to offend so many people, but our benefits don’t.’’

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@tigger got it right.  This is not about Freedom of Speech, but rather, about standards of conduct while wearing the uniform and representing the university.  What if instead of kneeling, the cheerleaders gave the crowd the middle finger?  How about giving the "Nazi Salute"?  You don't think the university has the right to establish a standard of conduct while you are "on university time"?


As far as Olens, yes, he lost credibility.  Straddling the fence rarely has a good outcome.  He could have shown true leadership and been decisive about the matter, but he tried to appease everybody.

#LawDawg2014
#LawDawg2014

@Lee_CPA2  Kneeling and the middle finger are two separate things. One is peaceful and was is designed to enrage, incite, and disrupt. It is foolish to even consider those two as the same. Unless you control the code of conduct at KSU or are on the Regents, it is misguided for you to be speaking on things of which you know nothing.

Tigger12472002
Tigger12472002

@#LawDawg2014 @Lee_CPA2 No, they're not. Using the middle finger and using a Nazi salute are protected speech. Possessing and displaying a Confederate Flag, or a Nazi flag, is protected speech. Yet if one of the cheerleaders pulled out a Nazi flag on the field, they'd be carted off so fast your head would spin. What do you think would happen if a white NFL player had a towel on his belt with the Confederate flag on it?

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@#LawDawg2014 @Lee_CPA2

So, yes or no, does the university have a right to compel individuals who are representing the university in an "official" capacity to conduct themselves in a certain manner while in uniform.  You're a "lawdawg", you should be able to answer this simple question.

Tigger12472002
Tigger12472002

Those who participate in activities like cheerleading and athletics also agree to follow a code of conduct. If their behavior conflicts with the requirements of the code of conduct, they can be punished, even if the restrictions conflict with their freedom of speech, since they voluntarily agree to the conditions of the code of conduct.

redweather
redweather

@Tigger12472002 So you're saying this code of conduct requires them to give up their constitutional rights? I'd love to see that.

Tigger12472002
Tigger12472002

@redweather @Tigger12472002 Suppose the code of conduct says, "no drinking alcohol 24 hours before a game." Obviously, if the student is over 21, then he/she has a right to drink anytime they want to. But, if they drink 24 hours before a game, which is their right, and the coach finds out, the coach, under the code of conduct, can kick them off the team or apply other punishments, such as suspension. They voluntarily agreed to abide by the code. That's not hard to understand. In another case, a couple of band members with the ECU band in NC knelt during a performance. The band director told them they could either take off the uniform and kneel in the stands, or they could stand during the performance. Since they agree to abide by a code of conduct, there was no violation of constitutional rights. In order to participate, they voluntarily agreed to the conditions.


redweather
redweather

@Tigger12472002 @redweather Again, I would love to see this code of conduct. Although I am not a lawyer, it's unlikely any code that nullifies constitutional rights by implication would withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Tigger12472002
Tigger12472002

@redweather @Tigger12472002 It would if participants willingly agree to waive those rights to participate in sports. It happens every season in every sport at every high school in the United States. Just go to your closest high school and ask for a copy.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@redweather @Tigger12472002

When you agree to represent the university in such a manner, the university has a say in what you can say, do and act while in "official" capacity.  These cheerleaders wear a uniform that is dictated to them down to the color of ribbons in their hair and they types of tennis shoes they wear.  The football players cannot place a random sticker on their helmet.  


Even out of uniform, the students have to abide by a standard of conduct, as those UGA football players who got arrested the other week will soon find out.


So yes, it is entirely within the rights of the university to tell this cheerleading squad that they will stand, face the flag, and show proper decorum and respect while the National Anthem is playing.

UnknownGI911
UnknownGI911

When are they going to protest the slaughter of blacks by blacks?  Do those black lives matter too?

UnknownGI911
UnknownGI911

Another failure on the part of Nathan Deal.

UnknownGI911
UnknownGI911

The students have a right to do what they want but the university President does not?  Sam did exactly the right thing except I would have disbanded the cheerleading squad once and for all.

MissDaisyCook
MissDaisyCook

No.  He did the right thing; although against Board of Regents policy.  What's right is not always whats legal.  

Insert Name Here
Insert Name Here

I think I am going to move from not just considering Georgia as home, to putting a ban on hiring from Georgia. Cheers. 

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

Olens was pathetic as AG and way underqualified as a college president.  Now "he will be looking for another high profile job in the next few weeks?"


If it is in the public sector, thy name is crony.  If it is in the private sector, thy name is puppet and out of the taxpayers pocket.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Mr. Olens may have many skills, but he never should have been rewarded with the presidency of KSU. However, it fits with many of the other "sweet Deals" given out over the last years, with people rewarded by being given jobs for which they did not hold the qualifications.

Warren Winter
Warren Winter

You imply that he ever was credible enough to lead KSU. He was a flunky appointee who had to resign his previous position before he was investigated.

J260
J260

Got it Einstein?

Starik
Starik

@J260 Do you "get it?" However stupid it may be college students have the right to protest. It's the law. I might add that the military is far more disrespected by electing draft dodgers as President of the USA, which we have done three times. 

J260
J260

Again...the Constitution does NOT guarantee nor even mention a right to protest. There is no such thing. It guarantees the right to free speech, but - AGAIN - that doesn’t mean any employer or institution of learning has to grant you time and forum for expressing that speech.

And AGAIN - protesting that which grants the supposed right to protest (our nation, it’s laws, and it’s symbols, signifies a mouth-breather level of stupidity.

Starik
Starik

@J260 Read the Supreme Court cases noted in the article... That issue is settled. 

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@J260  It is obvious that you are not a Constitutional lawyer, thus your remarks are not a learned opinion.  Otherwise, you would have been quoted in the article.

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@Starik @TheCentrist @J260 Don't need one since I didn't state an opinion about specifically the Constitution.  


Olens is a licensed lawyer with a degree from Emory and he hasn't faired to well on this topic.  So give him your expert opinion, he needs it. 

JakeJohnson
JakeJohnson

@J260 You may not undertand the kneeling thing. It's not a protest against a symbol. It's a refusal to honor a symbol that is seen as a false representation of the reality.

Tigger12472002
Tigger12472002

@JakeJohnson @J260 That's right. We should protest, after all, the stars and stripes flew over a country that allowed slavery a lot longer than the Confederate flag did.

J260
J260

Under-Educated White Guy - bless your heart. As your name implies, it is sadly obvious that you have no idea what your your Constitutional rights are. Yes, you have the right to free speech. That does NOT mean that your employer has to allow you to do it on his/her time and/or property. It also does not mean you have the right to do it while representing an institution like KSU and wearing one of their logos/athletic uniforms.

Further, by kneeling during the anthem, these little snowflakes are “protesting” the United States Flag and our Constitution, which curiously is the document you keep citing as the origin of their right to free speech. So they are protesting against their right to protest? Exactly how stupid does one have to be in order to make the KSU cheer squad? If the little snowflakes want to protest the police, the should go demonstrate in front of the police station, or down at Cith Hall, or get engaged in the electoral and/or political process. Or write letters to the editor, etc.

Disrespecting our flag, our anthem, our military, our Constitution, and our country, by kneeling, is lazy, intellectually bankrupt, and just plain stupid.

Hope I typed that s-l-o-w-l-y enough for you to free follow along.

You’re welcome.

#LawDawg2014
#LawDawg2014

@J260  You're an idiot. Clearly their right to protest and right to free speech is being protected by virtue of the fact they are still allowed to cheer and kneel. Moreover, the Board of Regents and their attorneys have concluded their actions are protected. Sad the sheriff of Cobb County and you are worried about this at the exclusion of more pressing issues.

J260
J260

So is that what “ oppression” looks like these days? A handful of stupid little snowflakes in their little cheer outfits, getting a taxpayer-funded secondary education and spending their Saturday’s at a football game? Really? Maybe it’s the snowflakes that need to focus on more pressing issues.

JakeJohnson
JakeJohnson

@J260 Sorry, but these are students. They have the right to wear armbands or kneel or wear teeshirts supporting political positions. 

#LawDawg2014
#LawDawg2014

@J260 You cannot tell others how to feel, act, and protest. Moreover, just because you do not experience oppression does not mean others don't. 


You call them snowflakes, yet you are the one constantly b****ing about this issue. Sad these young college girls have you all worked up. If you ask me you are the true snowflake who is actively disrespecting the constitution by ignoring long standing precedent.   

jerryeads
jerryeads

Maureen, come now. Olens never HAD credibility.  The recent events just showed what we already knew - that he's just an incompetent dupe for the hate-mongering gutless bigots hiding in the shadows.

feedback1
feedback1

It's the news media who have lost all credibility in your biased reporting of all this.

Under-Educated White Guy
Under-Educated White Guy

@feedback1  Right.  Can you explain what part of this article is biased?


Let me guess - you're another conservative who just LOVVVVVES the constitution, but can't stand the fact that athletes and cheerleaders are "disrespecting 'merica" by exercising their constitutional rights?   

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@feedback1 

EduKtor, The facts are against you most of the time in your comments, and most certainly in this instance where your ideology has led you to not just distort but fabricate.

It was the AJC coverage of the KSU cheerleader story and the AJC's Open Records request and publication of the texts from Rep. Ehrhart and Sheriff Warren that led the Regents to review what happened at KSU. (The University System of Georgia has told AJC reporter Eric Stirgus several times it was the AJC stuff that led to its review.) This not testimony to a lack of news media credibility, but a strong illustration of our credibility. When a government entity acts on news reporting by the AJC and takes this degree of action, that speaks to our credibility. And the AJC has a strong run of effecting major changes this year in Georgia. Try looking up from the talking points that you are handed and you’ll run into fewer brick walls. 

http://www.myajc.com/news/local-govt--politics/texts-show-cobb-sheriff-lawmaker-pushed-ksu-president-cheerleaders/nd7Nh5kcG9e4sVyt0Kxp8I/

http://www.myajc.com/news/local-education/ksu-didn-follow-guidance-cheerleader-kneeling/CDKOAKt4idekbBTeoodTwJ/

JakeJohnson
JakeJohnson

@feedback1 Citing a Supreme Court decision demonstrates bias? Reporting that the Board of Regents agreed that the cheerleaders have the right to kneel is biased? 

Under-Educated White Guy
Under-Educated White Guy

This idiot should never have been named KSU's president in the first place.


I guess conservatives don't "embrace" the constitution as much as they'd like us to believe.  But...but...but...

J260
J260

What part of the Constitution says that KSU does not have the right to make kids participating in athletics stand for the anthem?

But....but.....but......

J260
J260

Snowflakes have the right to kneel, KSU has the right to kick them off the team. Or where in the Constitution does it guarantee no consequences to exercising free speech? Can I go to work and start saying I hate blacks, or whites, or gays, or straights, and keep my job?

But...but....but.....

Under-Educated White Guy
Under-Educated White Guy

@DawgDadII @Under-Educated White Guy Let me explain it to you.  I'm going to type real slow so you can keep up. 


Conservatives drape themselves in the constitution.  They simple live and breathe that document, and they never cease to remind us ad nauseum.  But when some athletes or cheerleaders express constitutional rights that conservatives don't like, conservatives - like the sheriff and the legislator - get their things in a wad.


Got it, Einstein? But...but...but...



Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@J260 KSU doesn't GET to decide what the Constitution means in Georgia.  It is a NATIONAL document.


As for me, I cannot imagine myself kneeling, but I d***** sure would protect others' rights to do so.  Those rights are the ones fought for by my husband, father, grandfather,...



Starik
Starik

@J260 Why does Cobb need a Sheriff? Wouldn't professional law enforcement do better? 

J260
J260

Yeah, like the Clinton’s, or Al Franken, or John Conyers, or Harvey Weinstein, or Matt Lauren, or.....need I go on?

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@J260 Sure, after Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, Henry Hyde, Tim Murphy, Joe Barton, Blake Farenthold, and ta-da Trent Franks.


All that said, Olen has lost what minute credibility he had and needs to go to the private sector.

JakeJohnson
JakeJohnson

@J260 The U.S. Constitution gives people the right to protest. Students are people. Why does this need explaining?

JakeJohnson
JakeJohnson

@J260 You really don't understand that, because the Constitution gives these students the right to protest, interrupting that protest or punishing them for it is illegal?