E. Gordon Gee will temporarily leave Ohio State University to take over as interim president of West Virginia University where his career as a college president began three decades ago.
Ohio State and West Virginia University officials made the announcement Friday.
Gee, 69, will take an unpaid leave of absence from OSU and will be paid $450,000 by WVU, prorated on the number of months he serves as interim president. He’ll start the job Jan. 1 and live in the sprawling Blaney House on campus in Morgantown. WVU officials plan to have a permanent president in place next fall.
“People I know and a state that I enjoy… There is a real pull for me,” Gee said. Gee headed WVU from 1981 to 1985. Gee said Friday that West Virginia took a risk on him 33 years ago, hiring him at age 36, and it kicked off a wonderful career.
Gee abruptly retired from Ohio State on July 1 with a $5.8 million retirement package. His departure came after news leaked that he made offensive comments about Catholics, the University of Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference. The remarks came a year ago at the OSU Athletics Council meeting. His tendency to stick his foot in his mouth wore thin with university trustees, who put Gee on a remediation plan in March 2013.
Our Columbus Bureau also detailed Gee’s exorbitant spending and how he expanded his executive staff and began paying them performance bonuses. Between October 2007 and mid-2012, Gee spent more than $7.7 million on travel, housing, parties and entertainment.
Upon his retirement, Gee received a five-year contract with OSU that included an office, an appointment to the law school, a $1.5 million lump sum and a $410,000 annual salary and the title ‘president emeritus.’ Gee will maintain his titles and positions at OSU but not take a salary while at WVU, Ohio State officials said.
Since his retirement as Ohio State president, Gee has been on faculty at OSU Moritz College of Law and establishing the Center for Higher Education Enterprise within the OSU Glenn School for Public Affairs. The higher education center is primarily funded by a $300,000 pledge from George Skestos, a home builder and former OSU trustee.
While he is away, OSU law professor Deborah Merritt will serve as associate director of the center and coordinate its day-to-day operations. Gee will also continue leading Gov. John Kasich’s Quality and Value Initiative, which seeks to come up with ways for public universities to balance cost, quality and access for students.
Gee said WVU was enthusiastic about him continuing his work on higher education policy while leading West Virginia. Returning to the helm of a university will allow him to experience first hand the issues he is working on, Gee said. “One can never get too much experience.”
Gee temporarily replaces Jim Clements, the WVU president who announced in November that he was leaving at the end of the year.
When Gee takes over in Morgantown, it’ll be the seventh time he has led a university, including two stints at WVU and two at OSU.
E. Gordon Gee info
Family: widowed and divorced; one adult daughter, Rebekah.
Hometown: Vernal, Utah Education: University of Utah, honors degree in history; law degree and doctorate from Columbia University.
Career as university president: West Virginia University, interim, beginning Jan. 2014; Ohio State University 2007-July, 2013; Vanderbilt University 2001-2007; Brown University 1998-2000; Ohio State University 1990-1997; the University of Colorado 1985-1990; and West Virginia University 1981-1985.
In recent years, our reporters in Columbus have been covering Gordon Gee and his tenure at Ohio State. We reported on millions in spending on travel, parties, housing and other perks. in the first five years he served as president back at OSU starting in 2007, he pulled in $8.6 million in salary and compensation, making him the highest paid CEO of a public university in the country.