Anthem-kneeling at KSU is only part of the tale

After the installation of Sam Olens as KSU president, protesters take a knee last week at KSU in support of the Kennesaw State cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem. AJC/Rebecca Breyer

Let me begin by saying there’s much more to the story than the brief outline that follows:

A Republican county sheriff at a college football game spots a group of African-American cheerleaders kneeling during the national anthem. Theirs is a provocative form of protest against police violence, made irresistible by the fact that Donald Trump has condemned it.

The sheriff pulls out his phone and dials up the university president. His friend, a state lawmaker who commands the purse strings for the entire university system, does the same.

The next week, there are no cheerleaders on the field when the band strikes up Francis Scott Key’s tune.

Via texts, the sheriff and the lawmaker high-five each other for pushing the university president’s buttons, for their own great display of patriotism, and for standing up to liberals “that hate the USA.”

The university president denies a cause-and-effect link between the angry sheriff and a cheer-less football field, but concedes the situation could have been handled better.

The Board of Regents initiates a “special review” of the situation. University faculty scorch the bark off their boss for bowing to “outsiders.” And suddenly, days after his heavily robed investiture as president of Kennesaw State University, friends of Sam Olens fear that his job could be in jeopardy.

Given this Reader’s Digest account, you can be excused for blaming Colin Kaepernick or Donald Trump. Either way, you’d be pointing your finger in the wrong direction.

The situation at KSU is a long-brewing clash between a local community’s historic sense of possession and the changing demographics within a public university – one with an exploding annual enrollment that has jumped by more than 20,000 since 2000.

Cobb County’s political elite has claimed ownership of KSU from its very beginning as a two-year junior college. In 1962, Carl Sanders was elected governor with a promise to put a public college within commuting distance of every person in the state.

Sanders promised one to Bartow County, but Cobb County snaked it away with its deft political clout. The purchase of land near an unfinished I-75 involved some funny business and several public officials, according to one history, but the statute of limitations long ago rendered the circumstances moot.

A decade later, another Democrat with gubernatorial ambitions, George Busbee, won the support of two Cobb County legislators by promising to make Kennesaw Junior College a four-year institution. State Reps. Joe Mack Wilson and A.L. Burruss both have buildings named after them on the KSU campus.

When Republicans took control of Cobb, the informal title to KSU came with it. But a Democrat-controlled Legislature poured little cash into an institution that Cobb Republicans eyed as an alternative to the liberal biases of Emory University, the University of Georgia and the like.

Newt Gingrich, a Marietta-based congressman on the verge of becoming speaker of the U.S. House, began teaching a course dubbed “Renewing American Civilization” at KSU in the fall of 1993. A public eruption, over the use of tax-deductible university foundation funds to broadcast the course around the country, sent the enterprise off-campus.

Sam Olens, president of Kennesaw State University, speaks during his investiture ceremony last week. AJC/Rebecca Breyer

The Board of Regents quickly enacted a rule against elected officials teaching at public universities.

In 2002, Republican ascension to power in the state Capitol re-established a strong link between KSU finances and local GOP values. The ideological spats have continued.

In 2011, local Republican opposition sent a newly hired provost packing. His sin: His co-authorship of a 1998 academic paper that cited Communist philosopher Karl Marx.

Around that same time, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, became chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees all university system spending. Ehrhart got to the Capitol by beating Joe Mack Wilson, the lawmaker with his name on a KSU building.

In 2016, KSU hosted an art exhibit that focused on the AIDS epidemic and included pieces by some artists who suffered from the disease. Many of the pieces were rather graphic. Ehrhart condemned the show as “sickening,” and promised financial consequences if any similar events were held in the future.

Ehrhart is also the lawmaker who combined with Sheriff Neil Warren to move against the KSU cheerleaders this month.

And it is here that the law of unintended consequences applies.

Since Ehrhart has assumed a major role in university system spending, the Legislature has approved $56.6 million in new funding for buildings and infrastructure at KSU.

The campus has exploded. In 2000, the student population was under 14,000. Nearly 82 percent of the student body was white.

As of 2016, KSU had a far more diverse body of 35,000 students. Fifty-seven percent are white. The African-American population has more than doubled to 21.5 percent. (By comparison, the University of Georgia has roughly the same number of students. In 2016, only 8.3 percent were black.)

In other words, Cobb County itself may remain in GOP hands for the foreseeable future, but day by day, KSU is becoming a more liberal, liberal arts institution. Anthem-kneeling is merely one sign of the split that’s afoot.

Ironically, Sam Olens, the former Republican attorney general, was brought in as president to ease KSU’s transition to a major-league institution that emphasizes diversity. He’s the only Jewish president of a public university in Georgia. And as a Cobb County resident, locals were comfortable with him.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Ehrhart returned a call, and we discussed the KSU situation. The lawmaker said he thought Olens has done a fine job, and that he hopes the Board of Regents thinks so, too.

“It’s up to the Regents, but if I were asked I’d say, ‘No, I’d rather keep Sam. But I haven’t been asked,” he said.

Yet Ehrhart did mention that one of his top priorities when the Legislature convenes in January will be a much-needed $39 million classroom building at KSU.

He didn’t link the two. But there’s no doubt he could if he wanted to.

Reader Comments 3

30 comments
Gunluvr
Gunluvr

They need to take all of that nonsense back across the Chattahoochee River and do it out of sight in Vine City or Clayton County, where it belongs.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Earhart and the sheriff were perfectly within their rights, and Olens did the right thing. I'm just not sure why Olens lied.

Cheerleader supporters will be disappointed at the final result of this "inquiry". The Regents are NOT going to cross Ehrhart.

Amber47
Amber47

 Excellent article. However I think it is also missing an important piece of recent history where KSU decided to CUT the African Diaspora Program.  I think this is also an important piece in the narrative.

TrumpFan53
TrumpFan53

Well done Sheriff and Earl.  Keep up the good work and keep irritating the AJC.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

from the looks of this blog, the AJC has succeeded in coming up with another nothing story 

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

What do you call a movement based on a lie?

SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

This is a very good summary of the situation.   

ClayBlanchard
ClayBlanchard

Lets allow these poor discriminated against cheerleaders to kneel,  but lets also take a look at the KSU min GPA requirement. 2.5 GPA in 17 units of required high school coursework as recalculated by Kennesaw State. I wonder if any applicants with a 3.0 or above get turned away each year?  Now wouldn't that be discrimination?

Teacher
Teacher

It has always been clear to faculty that Cobb County thinks KSU belongs to their elite. The name on the place, folks, is Kennesaw State University--it is not Kennesaw County University. Opens clearly gave the impression that the sheriff and Ehrnhart are the ones calling the shots at KSU.  This is precisely why many faculty and students were opposed to his appointment as president. 

OrangeSkull
OrangeSkull

@Teacher So who are the "elite" to which you are referring to?  Are you saying Cobb officials only want the best and brightest of their students to go to KSU or would you be claiming they only wish to have white folks go to KSU?

Babycat
Babycat

I am beginning to think that this is a way for certain anti-American groups to do away with the playing of the National Anthem, period. 

# FU 417
# FU 417

@Babycat National Athems should not be played at sporting events anyway. What's the purpose? 

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

@# FU 417 @Babycat Where would you have it played?  Only at military or political functions?  The DNC didn't even want American flags displayed.  This is the anthem for all citizens.  I want it played.

AtlantanITP
AtlantanITP

The irony of watching privileged college kids protesting about how bad things are for them... I'd still like to see a story about what said protesters are actually doing within their community to make things better for the underprivileged rather than just 2 minutes of virtue signaling...

Getalifealready
Getalifealready

I see the Russian troll farm employees are posting below.

catherine003
catherine003

Gee Jim, you've managed to create quite the illusion here. Jumping on the hateful bandwagon are we?  Keep this up and pretty soon you're only readers will be the gullible and deplorable saps who feed off of this type of insidious garbage.  This false narrative that the media, and you, are constantly shoving in our faces will eventually destroy the souls it occupies, because that's what hate does.

SpinMeister
SpinMeister

Holy cow, what a hot mess of a column, Galloway. I can tell you carefully researched this long convoluted history because you failed to include the major expansion of KSU due to the merger with Southern Poly. I guess that didn't fit into your narrative.


And you did a nice job ignoring the surge in demand due to the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, and the decreasing value of a high school diploma. I'm eagerly awaiting your analysis of how Georgia Southern, North Georgia, etc.


Also, I'm curious to know exactly how the GOP "took control" of Cobb County. I thought they won a majority by winning elections, but seems that there's a Reichstag burning of some sort that I must have missed.

almmanduane75
almmanduane75

Blah, blah, blah, blah.


They're still a bunch of snotty nosed little kids that don't have a clue.


I want to see them go up to Blairsville and pull this stunt.


Now that would be impressive. Bloody, but impressive.


Have a good one.  Chow!!

scottw_
scottw_

Future unwed mother welfare thugettes.

Cartaphilus
Cartaphilus

You’re just jealous that they are getting the education you obviously didn’t, you racist pig.

TomGaff
TomGaff

@scottw_ I would not say thugettes but unwed mothers is correct? Isn't 70% of black babies born to unwed mothers? How can you force the fathers to do the right thing?

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

The Cheerleaders at KSU have been terribly discriminated against, I would not be surprised to find they have been sold as slaves, whipped by the Administration and branded with hot irons, no wonder they protested. 

Dagny T
Dagny T

Is this the SAME Joe Mack Wilson who in the 1980's federal reapportionment case against the state of a Georgia testified as chairman of the committee, "We ain't gonna create no more N!#%er districts?" The SAME Joe Mack Wilson whose name is on two KSU campus buildings - including the Marietta campus Student Center. Perhaps the offended cheerleaders who must walk past these signs each day should protest this? Oh, I forgot. He was a democrat politician. That's allowed.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Dagny T Please stay in your alternative universe. We need someone besides Trump to laugh at!

Dagny T
Dagny T

@RoadScholar @Dagny T You can read Joe Mack Wilson's comments for yourself.  They are recorded in the US District Court's Memorandum Opinion on Busbee v. Smith, 594 F. Supp. 494, September 21, 1982.  This was a federal case about race-related reapportionment in Georgia.


Look at the Court's 'Findings of Fact' #17 in which Joe Mack Wilson refers to "ni**er legislation," and states, "there are some things worse than ni**ers."  In #25, Wilson further states, "...the Justice Department is trying to get us to draw ni**er districts and I don't want to draw ni**er districts."


You can find this court document in a number of places, including at this link:  

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/549/494/1791783/


There is little question that Joe Mack Wilson was a racist.  Most people are unaware of this because his comments have been lost to time - and largely gone unnoticed.  


If you read the Court's entire Memorandum, you will see that its opinion was that Joe Mack Wilson's racist tendencies influenced not only this particular case on reapportionment, but his entire legislative career.


I would think a self-described "Road Scholar" would do some research before dismissing truth as an "alternative universe."


Who's laughing now? 

BAW
BAW

@Dagny T @RoadScholar Those crickets are awfully loud.  What do you say to that Jim Galloway and Road Scholar?

BAW
BAW

@RufusATL

@Dagny T @RoadScholar

"In 2011, local Republican opposition sent a newly hired provost packing. His sin: His co-authorship of a 1998 academic paper that cited Communist philosopher Karl Marx."
I'd also like to see some additional color on the paper he co-authored and his tenure as provost. I suspect there was more to it than a simple citation to a Karl Marx quote.

Trackbacks

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  2. […] When Yahoo Sports reached out for additional comments from Ehrhart, the representative’s office doubled down on keeping protests off taxpayer-funded venues, even though he reportedly pressured the university to make a policy change while simultaneously chairing a committee that affects the school’s funding: […]

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  3. […] you know that Kennesaw State University is going through a rough patch. First with the anthem-kneeling, then a lawsuit charging that its election center, responsible for programing electronic voting […]

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