E. Gordon Gee, the personable, owlish-looking, bowtie-wearing president of The Ohio State University, said his recent retirement announcement was not because of his latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease.
While that may be true, it also is obvious Gee’s outrageous remarks have worn thin with many of the university’s board of trustees.
The 69-year-old Gee’s announcement on Tuesday that he will retire as OSU’s president July 1 came just days after he was forced to apologize for yet another embarrassing, off-the-cuff remark that recently came to light. During a question-and-answer segment of a fundraising speech given Dec. 5, that only became public last week, Gee hit a grand slam of gaffes by insulting Notre Dame University, Catholics, the University of Louisville and the universities of the Southeastern Conference.
Gee obviously was joking, but when the remarks came to light last week in an Associated Press story, they did not seem funny. He was ordered by the university’s board of trustees to apologize, which he did, calling his remarks “a poor attempt at humor and entirely unappropriate.”
If this had been the only incident of Gee making eyebrow-raising remarks, it probably would not have caused such a stir. Unfortunately, they were only the latest in a long line of relatively innocent, but inappropriate, things that have come out of the president’s mouth. In a 2011 press conference regarding NCAA violations committed by several Ohio State football players that had been covered up by then-OSU football coach Jim Tressel, Gee seemed to dismiss the seriousness of the situation by answering a question about Tressel’s future at OSU by saying – again, jokingly – “I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” Just last year, he was forced to apologize for comparing coordination of the university’s many divisions to running the Polish army, angering Polish groups. He angered a group of nuns with a comment that OSU’s football opponents weren’t like playing the Little Sisters of the Poor, and he once called then-Gov. George Voinovich a “damn dummy.”
His off-the-cuff remarks, while largely innocent, and never malicious, have not only harmed the university’s reputation, but have begun to overshadowed Gee’s own many accomplishments. He is beginning to seem more like a buffoon than a first-rate college administrator. And he is a first-rate administrator. He also is a first-rate fundraiser who was well into a $2.5 billion campaign at Ohio State. In 2010, Time magazine named him the best college president in the U.S.
It is a shame it came to this, but Gee has repeatedly shown that he will not – or cannot – control what comes out of his mouth. It probably is good for both Gee and the university that he step away.