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Embattled Gee to retire

Announcement follows controversy over negative comments toward Catholics, other schools.

Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, whose many public gaffes once seemed part of his charm, announced his retirement Tuesday, days after his disparaging remarks about Catholics, the University of Notre Dame, the Southeastern Conference and others became public and gave OSU yet another black eye.

Gee, 69, said he decided to retire on July 1 after self-reflection during a family vacation.

“And after much deliberation, I have decided it is now time for me to turn over the reins of leadership to allow the seeds that we have planted to grow. It is also time for me to re-energize and refocus myself,” Gee said in a written statement released by the university’s media relations team.

His retirement comes four years before his current contract is due to expire, and as Gee continues to issue apologies for remarks made during a December meeting of the school’s Athletic Council. The school is also in the middle of a $2.5 billion multi-year fund-raising campaign.

In March, trustees put Gee on a “remediation plan,” told him to choose his public speaking engagements more carefully and threatened to fire him if he made further embarrassing remarks. The discipline included requirements such as hiring a coach to help him with his communications and issuing apologies to those he offends.

Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph A. Alutto will step in as interim president, a role he served in 2007.

“I love this university, and although I might be retiring from the presidency, my work with Ohio State will continue,” Gee said in the statement. “No matter what the future may hold for me, Ohio is my home.”

Gee served as OSU president from 1990 to 1997 and 2007 to present. His current contract runs through June 2017. By staying through June 30, Gee is entitled to an additional $641,301 in supplemental retirement payments. However, by leaving before September of 2014, Gee must forfeit $1.1 million in deferred compensation.

Ohio State is one of the nation’s largest universities, with 63,000 students, 42,000 employees, a major medical center and a $5 billion annual budget.

While Gee is retiring from the presidency, he doesn’t have to leave Ohio State. His employment agreement gives him tenure in the law school and the College of Education and Human Ecology and stipulates that he be granted permanent status as “president emeritus” with a stipend, secretary and office for five years.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in a written statement: “Gordon has been a tremendous partner in transforming Ohio’s fragmented higher education system into one better focused on fueling Ohio’s economic recovery and helping students meet their goals. I am proud to call him my friend and I will be forever grateful for what he has done for Ohio.”

OSU Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Schottenstein also heaped praise on Gee, calling him a “transformational leader.”

“His service to Ohio State has been superb. This man has been an inspiration to many people, including me, and we all are forever grateful for his friendship,” he said in a written statement.

But in the March 11 letter to Gee outlining his remediation requirements, Schottenstein and trustee Alex Shumate made clear that the OSU president’s “insensitive” and “inappropriate” comments had embarrassed the university. While the letter closed by thanking Gee for his “tireless devotion,” it also suggested “compensation changes” would be part of his annual performance review.

In recent years, Gee has been forced to apologize repeatedly when his off-the-cuff humor proved offensive to some. He slighted the Little Sisters of the Poor, offended Polish-Americans and implied that the head football coach had the power to fire him — all before his latest remarks about Catholics, priests who lead Notre Dame, the SEC, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

For the past several years, the Dayton Daily News has examined Gee’s spending on travel, entertainment, top staff and housing. Last fall, the Daily News reported that since 2007, Ohio State spent $7.7 million on Gee’s travel, housing and entertainment, including more than $800,000 on gatherings at the president’s mansion, $574,000 on private jet travel and $64,000 on Gee’s trademark bow ties, bow tie cookies, O-H lapel pins and bow tie pins for university marketing.

The Daily News also reported that OSU expanded Gee’s senior staff and paid them millions in bonuses — more than double the compensation paid to top managers in similar positions under Gee’s predecessor.

On OSU’s campus Tuesday, several students said they are sorry to see Gee go.

“Obviously there were negatives. It was just a bad attempt at humor,” said Erick Montfort, who just graduated with a degree in biology. “It is sad that the guy who signed my diploma is leaving now.”

Caroline Kissel of Worthington, who will be a junior in the fall, said, “Most other university presidents aren’t as involved. He may be 70 years old, but he treats us 20-somethings like old friends.”

Gee was the third highest paid public university president in the country last year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and this year his compensation package increased to $2.1 million.

But Gee earns more than that. His financial disclosure statement filed in May with the Ohio Ethics Commission shows he has 117 other sources of income outside the university. Gee earned $110,126 on 52 investment holdings but did not disclose gains or losses on 65 other investments.

He was also paid $185,061 in director fees for serving on Bob Evans Farms board and another $99,500 in director fees from the Grange Mutual Casualty Group. Gee also serves on the board of Limited Brands, though he did not disclose director fees from Limited Brands on his ethics statement.

Gee serves on 34 boards, foundations and councils, including JobsOhio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the National 4-H Council. He also serves on the King Abdulaziz University international advisory board, which paid for $6,114 worth of travel for Gee in 2012.

OSU Senior Jake Landers of Dublin questions whether Gee retired on his own.

“To say that he did it by his own choosing without any pushing by them seems a little hard to believe given that the comments just came out,” he said.

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