Gee's Legacy Stretches Far Beyond His Downfall
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio — What was a beautiful, sunny, 70 degree day in Columbus, Ohio, was clouded by the announcement that Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee plans to retire, effective July 1. Gee darkened the day for students, faculty, and staff in an e-mail announcement.
His decision, if it was indeed his, comes after recent reports of comments made in December during a meeting of the Ohio State Athletic Council, where Gee poked fun at Catholics, the University of Louisville, and schools in the SEC.
In discussing the attempt to persuade Notre Dame to join the Big Ten previously, 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, and so, literally, I can say that.”
Later in the meeting at Ohio Stadium, Gee continued the discussion on expansion, saying the Big Ten’s goal was to “make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity,” and followed that up with, "So you won't see us adding Louisville.” After the laughter ceased, Gee added that the Big Ten would not be adding Kentucky either.
In regards to those in the SEC making fun of the Big Ten’s name – stating people in the conference need to learn to count since there have been more than 10 members since Penn State joined in 1993 – Gee stated, “"You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing,” attacking some SEC school poor academic reputation.
This is not the first time the president has made comments that offended people. In 2010 Gee referred to the opponents of Boise State and Texas Christian University as “the Little Sisters of the Poor,” in reference to their easier path to an undefeated season than that of Big Ten or SEC schools. Again, these comments were an attempt at humor.
After the tattoo scandal in the spring of 2011, Gee stated that he hoped Jim Tressel did not fire him, when asked if the coach’s job was in jeopardy. This raised questions nationally as to who was actually in charge, the head football coach or the university president.
Comments like these are a part of Gee’s personality, a personality that made him so liked by those at Ohio State. How many students around the country can say they have had their president crash a weekend house party and willingly take pictures with all in attendance? If you went to OSU under Gee’s most recent tenure, there’s a good chance you can.
Gordon Gee (center) crashes a house party. L-R Article author Patrick Murphy, Brian Doyle, Alex Logeais, Gee, Kevin Kray and Ryan Miller.
Photo by Patrick Murphy
He is a fun-loving grandfather figure, who embraced the university’s love for sports and decided to speak his mind about topics that other presidents may have avoided. Those presidents are likely in their mansions on Friday and Saturday night, not walking down High Street with coeds.
In no way is it Gee’s job to attend parties with students, but that is part of what has made him both successful and who he is. During his time here, Ohio State’s academic profile has increased and the school has become a more highly-selective university. Not to mention Gee’s knack for raising billions of dollars, benefiting everyone at Ohio State.
His unique nature was ultimately his downfall. What is being labeled as a “retirement,” will not fool Buckeye fans. Just as Tressel was likely forced to leave, and those in charge called it a retirement, Gee departs under the same circumstances, and no one is going to believe this was his call to make.
His age and candor made him loveable to those at Ohio State who came in contact with him, but also drove him from his job. If this were a different era, one that did not feature social media and a need for a story, Gee’s comments may have only fallen on the ears of those present. Now, a lull in sports talk meant that five-month old comments were released and have been the talk of college football for the last week.
L- R. Patrick Murphy, Gordon Gee
and Greg Meyer.
Photo by Patrick Murphy
Not that Gee’s comments were appropriate, nor is this his first time needing to apologize for something he said, but this is just the man he is. When Ohio State brought him back, they did so knowing what he would bring.
Gee enjoys life and attempts to have fun with what he does. That is why at 69-years old, he is spending his weekends with college students and throwing punch lines out that would likely be heard at the bars the students likely will later depart for.
He has always done things his way and that is something commendable. To those he offended, he has already apologized, but the good he did for OSU, and the four other universities he presided over, should not be overshadowed by his attempts to lighten the mood and amuse and appeal to those around him.