Ohio State University has rebuked President E. Gordon Gee for disparaging Catholics and describing the priests who lead the University of Notre Dame as untrustworthy.
In his comments, which were recorded during a Dec. 5 Athletics Council meeting, Gee said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten Conference because they’re “not very good partners” and “the fathers are holy on Sunday and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week. You know, you just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or Friday and so. Literally, I can say that. Very true. Father Joyce was one of those people and who ran the university for many, many years.”
The Rev. Edmund Joyce, who died in 2004, served as executive vice president at Notre Dame for 35 years.
In the same meeting, Gee said only schools that are “of like-minded academic integrity” would ever be invited to join the Big Ten and then he quipped that that would rule out the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.
“The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for. They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate. There is no excuse for this, and I am deeply sorry,” Gee said in a written apology issued by OSU’s media relations.
Gee, who is Mormon, also apologized to Notre Dame.
“We find the remarks most regrettable, particularly regarding Father Joyce, who served Notre Dame and collegiate athletics so well and for so long,” said Dennis Brown, spokesman for Notre Dame. “President Gee has contacted (Notre Dame President) Father (John) Jenkins to offer an apology that he has accepted.”
According to Pew Research, 24 percent of Americans, or 75.4 million people, are Catholic.
Ohio State Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Schottenstein said in a written statement that trustees were informed of the remarks at the board’s Jan. 31 meeting and that Gee is “participating in an ongoing remediation plan to address his behavior.”
The university did not reveal specifics about the remediation plan.
The Athletic Council meeting was attended by students, alumni, faculty and department directors including Athletic Director Gene Smith.
Gee’s comments drew laughter at various times during the meeting. A member of the audience remarked that the Big Ten now has 14 members, leading some fans of the Southeastern Conference to say the Big Ten doesn’t know how to count.
Gee had this to say about that conference, which includes schools like Florida, Alabama and Vanderbilt, where he is a former president: “Well, you tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out where (inaudible.) …That’s right. I’ve been down there. I’ve been down there. I was the chairman of the SEC conference for two years. I’ll tell you something. It’s shameful. It really is. It’s shameful both the integrity – and you talk to Coach (Urban) Meyer. I mean that’s one of the reasons that he had to leave. He is a man of integrity. He won two national championships and in the meantime people were just undermining him in every shape or form. It’s shameful. We know how to count. And the thing about it is, we know how to count the money, which we have a lot more of than the SEC and we’ll continue to have that.”
Gee has a history of verbal gaffes. In January 2012 before a crowd of 300, 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.
In March 2011 Gee brushed aside questions about whether head football coach Jim Tressel would be fired. “Are you kidding me? Let me just be very clear. I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me,” he said at a press conference. Tressel stepped down three months later amid scandal.
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. Last fall, the OSU Board of Trustees bumped his compensation up to $2.1 million.
At Ohio State, Gee oversees a $5 billion a year operation with 65,000 students and 40,000 employees. Last year, the Dayton Daily News detailed how Gee has spent more than $7.7 million since October 2007 on travel, housing, parties and entertainment. Gee is afforded up to 100 hours a year in private jet travel and lives in a 9,600-square-foot university-owned, fully staffed mansion where he throws lavish parties and dinners.