Ohio State University has told President E. Gordon Gee to seek professional help with his personal communications, according to a “remediation plan” issued March 11, five weeks after trustees learned of Gee’s latest verbal gaffe.
“There have been occasions on which your comments were insensitive and inappropriate and have offended others,” wrote OSU trustees Robert Schottenstein and Alex Shumate in the three-page rebuke. “As a result, instead of your words promoting and uniting us, they have sometimes embarrassed and divided us.”
The letter says Gee could be fired if the pattern continues.
The university released the disciplinary letter on Friday, a day after the Associated Press first broke a story that Gee disparaged Catholics, priests who lead the University of Notre Dame and the SEC athletic conference in tape-recorded remarks made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletics Council meeting. He also inferred during the meeting that the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky aren’t academically worthy of joining the Big Ten.
Gee’s remediation plan calls on him to:
- issue personal apologies when appropriate;
- engage a coach to help him project a diverse, 21st century voice;
- seek professional help reviewing his personal communications;
- select the most appropriate speaking engagements; and
- use his voice to set the standards for “civility, inclusion”
No timetable was given for completing the tasks, though in the letter the authors say, “We understand that you are already making progress on many of these items and that your efforts to use your platform and position even more powerfully have not gone unnoticed.”
Gee apologized to the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. But OSU officials refused to say when the apology went out: just after the Dec. 5 remarks, in January when Ohio State trustees were told, in March when he entered his remediation or shortly before the AP broke.
“He made the apology. That is our response,” said OSU spokeswoman Gayle Saunders.
Some of the targets of Gee’s comments are lashing back. “I have a major problem with him,” University of Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino said on a radio talk show. “He is a pompous ass for making those statements.”
Louisville President James Ramsey said on a Louisville TV station: “I would say in that particular president’s case, it’s not unusual at all, to make statements, and then have to retract them later. I thank my lucky stars I’m not president of Ohio State and had some of the probation problems and some of the NCAA problems that they’ve had.”
Gee’s comments drew laughter at various times during the meeting of the Athletics Council, which makes recommendations on ticket prices and other matters. At one point, in response to a question, he said Southeastern Conference schools should “learn to read and write.” Many SEC schools rank below those in the Big 10, according to U.S. News and World Report’s annual college academic rankings, although Vanderbilt and Florida of the SEC sit above OSU in the rankings, and Georgia is fairly comparable.
In their letter to Gee, Schottenstein and Shumate suggested he limit his speaking engagements “so that there is a stronger alignment between the use of your time and the core messages that you deliver in furtherance of the university’s goals and priorities.”
They also stated that “consideration of appropriate compensation changes will be included” as part of his annual performance review. Gee was the third highest paid president of a public university in the country last year with a pay package worth $1.9 million, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
In the past, Gee has turned apologies into full-blown media events. In November 2010, he remarked that OSU’s football schedule was tough. “We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor,” he remarked.
Ten months later, Gee, the OSU cheerleaders and Brutus the Buckeye made a road trip to suburban Toledo where they visited Sacred Heart Home for the Aged, a nursing facility of the Little Sisters of the Poor. A Toledo Blade photo gallery shows Gee signed autographs, posed for photos, gave out hugs, received a home-made bow tie and danced with Mother Cecilia through a tunnel of college students.
The Dayton Daily News for the past several years has closely watched the spending by OSU President E. Gordon Gee, who is among the nation’s best-paid public university presidents. Last year, the newspaper detailed how Gee has spent more than $7.7 million since October 2007 on travel, housing, parties and entertainment.
Gee’s verbal gaffes
December 2012: At a taped meeting of Ohio State’s Athletic Council, Gee, a Morman, says “you just can’t trust those damn Catholics” and disparages several universities of the SEC conference, saying they should “learn to read and write.”
January 2012: Gee quipped that OSU’s individual colleges used to operate like PT boats shooting at one another in the ocean. “It was like the Polish army,” he said.
March 2011: Months before football coach Jim Tressel resigned amid scandal, Gee brushed aside a question about whether Tressel would be fired. “Are you kidding me? Let me just be very clear. I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
November 2010: Gee remarked that Ohio State’s football schedule is tough. “We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor.” A nursing facility of the Little Sisters of the Poor operates in suburban Toledo.