Ohio State president Gordon Gee to 'retire'

Ohio State president Gordon Gee to 'retire'

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]hio State president Gordon Gee will “retire” effective July 1.

Gordon Gee, sits for a portrait in his office on Ohio State's campus.

During a more tranquil time, Gordon Gee sits for a portrait in his office on Ohio State’s campus.

Gee announced his retirement in an email sent Tuesday afternoon to students, faculty and staff.

“Without question, the university has achieved remarkable success, and it has been my honor and calling to lead it,” the email read, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Ohio State is well-positioned for the future. I love this university, and my relationship with it will continue.”

Though the decision to step down is being called a retirement, it comes in the wake of fallout over remarks Gee made in December during a meeting of the Ohio State Athletics Council.

During the 30-minute speech, Gee managed to offend everyone from the “damn Catholics” at Notre Dame to the SEC (for its “shameful” academic record) to ex-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who he said Barry Alvarez thinks is a “thug,” and several others along the way.

Gee spent the past week apologizing for his remarks, which he said were meant as harmless jokes, but the embarrassment to the university was clearly very real.

On Saturday, the Dispatch reported that two powerful OSU trustees sent Gee a letter in response to his December remarks warning that any further verbal gaffes “could constitute cause for even more punitive action.”

The trustees’ letter was sent March 11, six weeks before an AP report and an audio recording of his comments went public and the firestorm ensued.

It was the latest in a series of controversial comments from the two-time Ohio State president.

In December of 2010, Gee made headlines when he referred to Boise State and TCU as college football’s “the Little Sisters of the Poor.” Gee would later say that, “I need to keep my mouth closed. … I have no business talking about college football.”

Gee didn’t exactly leave his two previous jobs on the best of terms, and while he’s been largely popular during his tenures in Columbus, his big salary and lavish spending did raise eyebrows.

A report by the Dayton Daily News last September pointed out that, since his return to Ohio State in 2007, Gee had spent more than $64,000 on bow ties, bow tie cookies and O-H and bow tie pins for Gee and others to distribute, and $895,000 — or $23,000 a month — on parties at Pizzuti House, the president’s mansion.

With a total compensation package approaching $2 million a year, Gee is the nation’s highest-paid head of a public university. His success in fundraising was often cited to justify his big paycheck.

But according to the Daily News, Gee’s compensation and spending on travel was more than triple Texas’ president Bill Powers and more than double Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, who both lead larger fundraising efforts than Ohio State and whose schools are ranked higher by U.S. News & World Report.

Gee’s seven-year tenure at Vanderbilt was largely positive, too, despite a September 2003 decision to eliminate the school’s athletic department. But things got complicated after a Sept. 26, 2006 Wall Street Journal article highlighted his lavish spending.

The E. Gordon Gee "lavatory complex" at Brown.

The E. Gordon Gee “lavatory complex” at Brown.

The front page article, infamously subtitled “Marijuana at the Mansion,” also revealed that Gee’s second wife, Vanderbilt professor Connie Baumgarner Gee, admitted to keeping and smoking marijuana at Braeburn, the university-owned Greek-revival mansion where the couple lived.

Baumgarner said she used marijuana to relieve an inner-ear ailment, but the fallout was profound. Gee reportedly told his wife that he could not stay chancellor of Vanderbilt while married to her, and the two divorced.

Gee and his ex-wife have remained friends since the split, and he left Vanderbilt to return to Ohio State less than a year later.

Gee’s short stint as Brown University’s president, from 1998-2000, was also mired in controversy.

Many of his moves, such as the decision to cut the school’s popular Charleston String Quartet and an an extravagant renovation of the president’s residence, were roundly criticized within the university community and in the press.

Gee Photo: Ohio State University Handout

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