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Posted: October 19, 2017

Students kneel during national anthem as Olens takes president’s office

Kennesaw State University students took a knee during the national anthem at the officially installing of Sam Olens as university president. (Eric Sturgis/AJC)

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By Eric Stirgus and Meris Lutz

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As Sam Olens was being installed as president of Kennesaw State University, students took a knee during the national anthem to protest how the school handled cheerleaders who knelt at a football game.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Eric Stirgus, on the KSU campus, reports that about a dozen students knelt at their seats during Olens’ investiture.

Students have also scheduled a sit-in on the campus green, where Olens is supposed to celebrate officially taking the office that he has held for about a year.

Students are not the only ones protesting.

Some faculty are also boycotting the ceremony because they believe Olens appointment -- he is the former state attorney general -- was a political appointment rather than one based on solid academic experience.

“We are boycotting the Olens ceremony because he is not our President,” wrote Susan S. Raines, a professor of conflict management at KSU. “He was not chosen through a transparent, traditional hiring process. He is not qualified for the position which was gifted him by the Governor through the Board of Regents.

She continued, “He has repeatedly shown that he does not know how to carry out the duties of the office, including recent violations of constitutional rights on campus. He will never be our President.”

Reporter Meris Lutz, also on the campus, spoke with Mark Robinson, a staff member who was crossing the green outside the convocation center. Robinson did not appear surprised that some would boycott the ceremony after the handling of the protest and apparent intervention of public officials. 

“It’s a public university with public funds and I do believe the cheerleaders’ first amendment rights come into play,” he said. “It’s understandable that people would protest.”

Robinson emphasized that he was expressing a personal opinion. 

Olens did not address the controversy in his remarks at the campus convocation center. He got choked up speaking about his parents and talked about his goals of helping students succeed. 

 State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, a Cobb Cobb Republican, indirectly addressed the situation, acknowledging there are some times "rough waters," but KSU is in good hands with Olens. 

"I've never seen anyone more honest than Sam Olens," Tippins said in his speech. 

Stirgus reports that the building where Olens ceremony is taking place is about half empty, and a plea was sent out to professors last week to come and even bring classes with them because too few RSVP’s were coming in.

The recent events started Sept. 30 when five cheerleaders knelt during a football game’s as the national anthem played. Various KSU officials had been in discussion about what to do if this happened, and local politicians, including a state representative and the local sheriff called Olens to pressure him to take action.

The school decided to keep the cheerleaders off the field during the national anthem, sparking both praise from many in the community and criticism by others.

The Georgia Board of Regents announced Wednesday it’s conducting a review of how KSU responded to the cheerleaders’ protest.

 Olens said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon he regrets how the situation was handled.  

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Meris Lutz keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Cobb County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories: 

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