LGBT students and alumni at Kennesaw State are protesting the possible hiring of Attorney General Sam Olens as the school's next president, organizing a campus protest and petition gaining thousands of signatures.
The opposition to Olens – who as the state's top lawyer has fought LGBT equality – comes as he was scheduled to interview for the job with the Georgia Board of Regents on Tuesday. The hiring – long rumored in political circles – has been done with no public vetting and appears nearly complete. On Monday, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby said a national search for a new KSU president isn't needed. He offered a brief statement on why:
“There has been speculation about this for some time, and up until now, I have remained silent on the matter. Initially, I was planning to conduct a national search to find the next president of Kennesaw State. Yet, through sincere and earnest conversations with Mr. Olens, I now believe he should be considered at this time.”
Faculty members raised red flags about Olens in May. But grassroots opposition from students came to a boil after a Project Q Atlanta article last week detailing how Olens has opposed same-sex marriage, mocked gay couples and blasted guidelines calling for the fair and equal treatment of transgender students and sued the federal government over them.
A current LGBT student at KSU joined with a graduate student to launch an online petition opposing Olens' appointment and a campus protest on Monday attracted hundreds of participants. The petition, Demand Anti-LGBTQ Attorney General Sam Olens Not Be Appointed President of Kennesaw State University, has gained 6,385 signatures and was created by Lane Hunter, a senior music education major, and Sarah Rose, a 2012 graduate.
Olens is known for waging legal battles against the LGBTQ community in Georgia, including LGBTQ students.
Olens has previously mocked those who argued for marriage equality within the state, arguing that his view of so-called “traditional” marriage “was an accepted truth for almost everyone who ever lived, in any society in which marriage existed.”
Olens called the Obama administration’s direction that public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity unconstitutional and a “legally unsound mandate.”
Hiring Sam Olens as the new KSU President is one huge step backwards for the university.
The school has become increasingly accepting of LGBTQ students. As one alum and one current student of KSU who are part of the queer community, we worry that appointing Olens as university president will have a long-lasting, detrimental effect on the academic experience of KSU's queer student body – and the community as a whole.
Hunter said the hiring of Olens' could impact the LGBT-friendly progress the campus has made in recent years.
“Sam Olens has actively tried to overturn marriage equality and does not support LGBTQ people,” Hunter said in a prepared statement released by Care2, which hosts the anti-Olens petition.
“KSU is one of very few universities to offer LGBTQ housing. These students will not feel safe with a man like Olens at the head of the university. He is a politician and has no place leading our diverse student body. We need someone who understands the need for inclusion and acceptance in the world of higher education,” Hunter added.
Rose told the protest that Olens' record on LGBT issues shows that he doesn't deserve to lead KSU. Via the Sentinel:
“Someone with a political background and a history of repressing the LGBT community, the transgender community and especially transgender students, does not deserve to be at the head of a university as amazing and prominent as Kennesaw State University,” Rose said.
The impact Olens could have on KSU's track record of LGBT inclusion was repeated throughout the rally on Monday.
Andrew Connard, a gay journalism student at KSU, said he believed an Olens presidency would change the college's inclusive campus culture.
“It took me a year being in college to come out and I realized that Kennesaw State University is my safe place,” Connard said.
Jessica Fisher, a senior communication major and one of the organizers of the protest, worried that an Olens presidency might be detrimental to KSU’s inclusive environment.
“What we fear that it could mean is anything from more rigid rules around bathroom use, to taking away the budget from the LGBT center on campus, to taking away LGBT housing on campus,” Fisher said.
Leonard Witt, a KSU professor of teaching and research, criticized the lack of public input into the possible hiring of Olens and said it was an effort to undercut opposition to his appointment. Via the AJC:
Already the KSU LGBTQ community members are signing petitions. A headline in Project Q, a popular Atlanta blog, screams out “Gay marriage bigot Sam Olens to become KSU president.” Unfair? Perhaps, but how do we know, since the selection process is coming from the darkest corners of state government. As attorney general, Olens ardently opposed both gay marriage and now gender neutral bathrooms. Hence, the headline.
Given Cobb County’s history, try as the chancellor may argue otherwise, important national constituencies are going to be outraged¬ about the secret meetings aimed at appointing a candidate who they know will infuriate the LGBTQ community and their allies at Kennesaw State, in Cobb County and throughout the state and nation.
The nation’s largest foundations that support higher education demand respecting diversity in all its forms. An active foe of gay marriage or transgender neutral bathrooms for KSU president? Cobb County again? We have better places to put our money. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Nike and just about every other major corporation may well openly or silently boycott Kennesaw State University. Plus, the tainted brand name will not exactly be a student resume builder.