Kennesaw State University

Kennesaw State University, a unit of the University System of Georgia, is one of the largest universities in the state. Located in Kennesaw, along I-75 in Cobb County, the university draws students primarily from the northern Atlanta suburbs, but its service area extends throughout northwest Georgia. As a state university, Kennesaw views its central mission as teaching, with a secondary emphasis on professional service and applied research. In fall 2006 nearly 20,000 students were enrolled.

Founding

Kennesaw State University (KSU) was chartered by the Board of Regents in October 1963, during one of the most dramatic periods of college expansion in Georgia's history. Home to a large aircraft industry and two air bases, Cobb County exemplified the New South that emerged in the aftermath of World War II (1941-45). Between 1940 and 1960, as Cobb tripled in size, the county became home to an affluent, well-educated population determined to improve educational opportunities for Georgia's youth.
By the early 1960s the first of the baby boom generation had reached college age, pressuring educators and politicians to construct more classrooms. In 1962 Carl Sanders won the governorship with a pledge to place a college within commuting distance of practically every Georgian. After World War II the University of Georgia established off-campus centers in a number of towns around the state. The Marietta Center operated from 1951 to 1966. By the 1960s, however, people around the state made clear their preference for autonomous two-year community campuses. In 1963 the Board of Regents founded three new junior colleges, in Albany, Dalton, and unincorporated Cobb County.
During the 1962 campaign Sanders had promised a new college to neighboring Bartow County. Leaders in Cobb realized that both counties were not likely to win a new institution, so they approached the regents with the most generous offer any community had made up to that time. The city of Marietta and the Cobb County Board of Education agreed to sell $2.35 million in bonds to pay for the land, original buildings, roads, utilities, and landscaping. After the local authorities bought the property, they deeded it over to the state. The staff in the chancellor's office supervised campus construction. Costs exceeded expectations, running close to $4 million, but a large federal grant made up most of the difference between the local contribution and the final price tag.
In part to appease disappointed Bartow residents, the Board of Regents built the new campus in north Cobb County, approximately halfway between Marietta and the Bartow county seat of Cartersville. The charter president, Horace W. Sturgis, took office on July 1, 1965. Because of labor troubles the new campus was not completed until January 1967. Nonetheless, courses at Kennesaw Junior College began in September 1966, in classrooms provided by the Southern Technical Institute (later Southern Polytechnic State University) in Marietta. Some 1,014 students enrolled for the first fall quarter.

Becoming a Senior College

President Sturgis recalled that the initial question he received at his first appearance before a local civic club was "When are we going to be a senior college?" From the beginning the college recruited faculty with four-year status in mind. In the early 1970s delegations of civic leaders made frequent visits to the Board of Regents to argue the case for conversion. In the 1974 gubernatorial election local power brokers backed George Busbee in exchange for a promise from the future governor to help Kennesaw gain four-year status. In 1975 Marietta representative Joe Mack Wilson managed to place $100,000 in the regents' budget for Kennesaw's conversion. When the board failed to use the money that year, Wilson succeeded in placing $250,000 in the next year's budget. Supporting him in these efforts were a fellow Marietta legislator, Al Burruss, and Appropriations Committee chair Joe Frank Harris of Cartersville, a member of the Kennesaw Junior College Foundation.
Opponents presented two strong arguments against Kennesaw's elevation to senior college rank. Chancellor George Simpson sought to avoid a duplication of programs by using the junior colleges on each side of Atlanta as feeder institutions for Georgia State University. He also argued that the creation of a four-year school in predominantly white Cobb County would delay the university system's efforts to meet a federal desegregation order. On the other hand, Cobb by the 1970s was the third-largest county in Georgia, and its population was growing by more than 10,000 people a year. Most students at Kennesaw also held jobs; many were over the traditional college age and were married. The state had failed to place a public four-year college anywhere in northwest Georgia. The typical student found the trek into Atlanta to attend class an inconvenience and wanted a campus closer to home or work. With the support of several Busbee-appointed regents, Kennesaw advocates won their case, persuading the board on April 14, 1976, to turn the school into a four-year college. Under the plan the first upper-level classes were scheduled for fall quarter 1978 at the newly named Kennesaw College.

The Siegel Era

In 1980 Kennesaw graduated its first four-year class. Shortly afterward the charter president, Horace Sturgis, announced his retirement. After a nationwide search, the regents in 1981 chose as the school's new president Betty L. Siegel, the first woman to head a University System of Georgia institution. She served until 2006, making her one of the longest-serving woman presidents in the nation. In her early years the institution embarked on a period of remarkable growth, jumping from fewer than 4,000 students in 1980 to more than 10,000 by 1990. Siegel persuaded the regents to initiate master's level classes, beginning in 1985 with graduate programs in business and elementary education. In 1988 the school's name was changed to Kennesaw State College.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were a period of increased selectivity and specialization, when the campus began gaining recognition for such additions as its first applied research center, the A. L. Burruss Institute of Public Service, established in 1988. The following year Kennesaw appeared for the first time in U.S. News and World Report's list of the country's top up-and-coming regional colleges and universities.
The years around the turn of the century became a time of increased distinction and significance for the school. In 1996 Kennesaw achieved university status. That same year Success magazine listed the Coles College of Business as one of the top ten up-and-coming schools for entrepreneurs. Also in 1996 the men's baseball and women's softball teams won National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II national championships, only the second time in NCAA history that one school won both titles in the same year.
Despite such success stories, Kennesaw's reputation was tarnished in the 1990s when questionable administrative decisions made the campus the focus of controversy. The most serious controversy centered on the offering of a "Renewing American Civilization" course taught in fall 1993 by Newt Gingrich, the Republican congressman whose district included the Kennesaw campus. The holder of a Ph.D. in history, Gingrich was qualified to teach the class. But the college's impartiality came into question when the Kennesaw State Foundation, a tax-exempt fund-raising group, accepted $200,000 from Gingrich loyalists. These wealthy financial backers gave the money so that the course could be televised across the country.
Although the class was stimulating, provocative, and popular with students, it made some people wonder whether the college had been seduced into supporting a partisan political crusade. After Gingrich became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995, the Ethics Committee launched an investigation that focused in part on the Kennesaw course. Ultimately, the committee found no evidence of wrongdoing but forced the Speaker to pay a fine because of conflicting statements filed by his attorneys. Meanwhile, the Kennesaw State Foundation became the subject of an Internal Revenue Service investigation that threatened to jeopardize its tax-exempt status. The probe continued until Gingrich's resignation from Congress in 1998. By the time the foundation was exonerated, it had paid more than half a million dollars in legal fees.
By the turn of the century Kennesaw had embarked upon a major construction campaign, designed to accommodate its growing student population. In 1991 the 100,000-square-foot A. L. Burruss Building opened, followed in 1996 by a $15 million science and math building. In 1999 two more buildings opened: a much-enlarged student center and Kennesaw Hall, home of the College of Education and the central administrative offices. In 2002 KSU built its first two parking decks, completed the architectural design of a 6,000-seat convocation center, and for the first time became a residential campus. The new Student Recreation and Wellness Center opened in 2005.
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Further Reading
Thomas A. Scott, "History of Kennesaw State University," in Making Connections, Achieving Success, Understanding Others: The First-Year Experience at Kennesaw State University, ed. David King et al., 3d ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 2002).
Cite This Article
Scott, Thomas A. "Kennesaw State University." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 07 August 2014. Web. 20 August 2014.
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