Sam Olens, president of Kennesaw State University, announced he is leaving the position next year.
In a letter to students and faculty that was released Thursday morning, Olens said he is stepping down Feb. 15, 2018.
“Sam is a truly dedicated public servant to the state of Georgia and has contributed much of his life for the betterment of Georgians,” said Steve Wrigley, university system of Georgia chancellor. “I thank Sam for his service to Kennesaw State University and the University System of Georgia. On behalf of the University System, we wish Sam and his family the very best.”
Wrigley has named Dr. Ken Harmon interim president. Harmon currently serves as provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Wrigley said the university system will immediately begin a national search for the next KSU president.
Controversy over Olens' appointment began even before he officially took the helm. The state Board of Regents appointed him in October, despite protests from several campus groups.
Olens' short tenure also saw unflattering national headlines because of the university's response when several football cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem.
The University System of Georgia also announced an investigation into how the school responded to the controversy.
Internal KSU documents reveal the turmoil at the top in the days following the protest, as the school scrambled to try to contain a sudden firestorm. And many of the administrators’ main concern was not so much the cheerleaders' protest but the bad P.R. that came from it.
“Several cheerleaders… kneeled for the anthem…. Not good…. Much fallout,” Olens texted K.C. White, vice president of student affairs, after the game. “It will make the papers, [and] downtown…” meaning the state Board of Regents, the legislature and the governor might not be happy about the protest.
Olens did receive angry calls, from Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and from state Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Cobb County, who is one of the key legislators who determine KSU's level of state funding every year.
“I am pleased to hear the news of President Olens resignation," said Davante Lewis, spokesperson for the cheerleaders who have been called the Kennesaw 5. "It has been clear under his leadership that local donors, politicians, and the Republican Party have been running the university. I call on the University System of Georgia to do what they didn't do a year ago: A fair, open, honest, and national search for a president who will do right by faculty and students.”
Here is Olens' full statement:
December 14, 2017
Dear Faculty, Staff and Students:
First, let me take this opportunity to again congratulate all of the 2017 graduates whom the University has honored this week. We are proud of your accomplishments and the efforts undertaken by all of our faculty and staff to reach this milestone.
As many of you know, when I was selected as Kennesaw State University's President in October of 2016, I was a non-traditional candidate. I believe I was appointed because of my prior service as Georgia's Attorney General, my deep ties to Cobb County and my passionate belief in the importance of higher education.
Challenges to the institution were evident as I began my tenure and these trials, coupled with internal trepidations, made for a very difficult start. I have worked tirelessly to lead this institution to greater heights, with student success being my number one priority. More than most, I can relate to the challenges many of our students have to overcome to successfully attend and complete college. This personal history instilled in me a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge that has guided my actions as President.
With the help of an excellent leadership team and the arduous work of the entire KSU family, we have made great strides over the last year toward taking Kennesaw State to the next level of academic success. The University is operating more efficiently and effectively, and the relationship with the Foundation is strong. We have focused on providing need-based scholarships for our students and supportive, innovative programs to help at-risk students achieve their dreams of obtaining a college degree. We have created a new admissions model that will better serve our students and allow us to strategically plan for future growth. We have also made substantial progress in fully consolidating two campuses into a single University community.
Even with these successes, I have decided that new leadership will be required for KSU to fully realize its potential. Accordingly, I have advised the Chancellor and the Board of Regents of my intention to step down as the President of Kennesaw State University, effective on February 15, 2018.
While I view this transition as the best course of action for the University, I do so with the realization that I will miss working on behalf of the students at KSU who have the potential to do remarkable things and serve as tomorrow's leaders.
My optimism and expectations for the University are high, and I wish all success for the future to our students, faculty, and staff.