In a little over two years, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee has managed to offend a whole lot of folks.
He’s mocked, belittled, denigrated or damned everybody from the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Polish Army and Texas Christian University to — in his most recent foot-in-mouth episode — “damn Catholics,” Notre Dame, the entire SEC, the state of Kentucky’s two most prominent universities and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney.
At least one person with real knowledge of that December meeting of the OSU Athletic Council — when Gee’s latest series of offensive quips were tape recorded — said the president also made some unkind assessments of some of Ohio’s other colleges, specifically MAC schools.
Talk about a guy being self-centered, arrogant and totally tone deaf.
But two years ago — at a nothing-to-joke-about press conference to address the transgressions of then football coach Jim Tressel — Gee said the truest thing I’ve ever heard him say.
As he stood at the podium in front of a room full of media, Gee was asked if he had considered firing Tressel.
“Let me be just very clear” Gee said. “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
Although he came off as something of a buffoon, Gee was right on the money with one thought.
He should be worried about being shown the door.
For all the donations he drums up at those back-slapping fund raisers — and Gee, who Time magazine named its college president of the year in 2010, is a great fundraiser — he is a lightning rod for controversy and negative publicity, and in the process, the school gets scorched.
I don’t think the guy is mean spirited or a bigot. Not at all. He’s intelligent, often likeable, sometimes funny and sometimes self-deprecating, but he’s also fully self-absorbed, pompous and presumptuous.
Maybe the sense of entitlement comes because he makes so much — at an annual salary of nearly $1.9 million a year, he’s the highest paid CEO of a public university in the nation — or because he’s allowed to spend so much (of other people’s money) without thought or restraint.
Our newspaper found that over the past five years or so, his expenses at OSU have averaged out to about $1.6 million a year.
Before returning to OSU for this second stint as president, he held the same job at Vanderbilt University and was criticized there for the extravagant amount of money he spent to renovate his living quarters. The same thing happened when he was at Brown University, where his remodeling of the president’s residence there cost several million dollars.
He stayed there only two years at Brown and left under a storm of criticism.
When you are given a blank check to spend what you want you might think that extends to saying whatever you want, as well.
The latest controversy came to light when the Associated Press recently obtained a tape of Gee’s comments at the December gathering.
When discussing negotiations with Notre Dame, Gee said: “The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week … You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday.”
On expanding the Big Ten, he said the goal of the school’s presidents was to “make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity … So you won’t see us adding Louisville.”
There was some laughter from the audience when he said that and then he added that the Big Ten, for the same reason, wouldn’t be adding the University of Kentucky either.
As for the SEC — which has beaten OSU like a drum on the field in recent years — he was especially dismissive: “You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we’re doing.”
While the comments were met with laughter, I know at least one athletic council member who wasn’t amused by Gee’s inappropriate and arrogant comments once again.
Gee was called on the carpet in January and is said to be going through some kind of sensitivity training or something. That seems like something you do with junior high kids who step out of line, not university presidents who know better.
Gee has apologized and said things like “the comments I made were plain wrong … It was a poor attempt at humor … It was entirely appropriate.”
He’s offered this same type of mea culpa many times before.
Ohio State keeps putting up with this stuff because Gee can raise money, but one day the school may choose to commemorate him the way Brown University still does.
Every year during Spring Weekend at Brown, rows of portable toilets are rolled out along with a sign that reads:
“The E. Gordon Gee Lavatory Complex.”