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Gee: ‘Columbus will always be my home’

OSU President E. Gordon Gee in a Sept. 10 interview with The Lantern.

OSU President E. Gordon Gee in a Sept. 10 interview with The Lantern.

Just over a year ago, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee said he had been a university president half his life and didn’t plan to slow down.

“As long as I have the energy and capacity to do what I’m doing then I’ll do it,” Gee said in an April 23, 2012 editorial board meeting with The Lantern. “I believe very clearly in running a university at a high-energy level. I believe in being able to do the travel that I do, (and) you know I’ve had a lot of backaches. Saturday I was out until 2 (a.m.) with the students, and you know I believe in doing those kinds of things and when I can’t do it at that level, I don’t want to be a shadow of myself, I’ll go and do something else.”

Ohio State announced Tuesday Gee is retiring from his post effective July 1.

“I recently returned from a vacation with my family, during which time I had a chance to consider the university’s phenomenal achievements and the road that lies ahead for it. Ohio State now has a richness of new opportunities that would be the envy of most universities,” Gee said in a university press release.

“During my days away, I also spent some time in self-reflection. And after much deliberation, I have decided it is now time for me to turn over the reins of leadership to allow the seeds that we have planted to grow. It is also time for me to reenergize and refocus myself.”

In a message to OSU faculty, he said his relationship with the university will continue.

Speculation has begun to circulate about not only who will replace Gee but also about what Gee will do next. In the April 23, 2012 meeting with The Lantern, Gee touched on whether he would consider running for public office.

“I actually came close to running for public office twice. Once I was really given the opportunity to run for Senate in Colorado, and then my wife then came down with breast cancer, and I was given the opportunity to run for governor of Ohio in 1995, and thought very seriously about it, then I just decided I like what I’m doing,” Gee said. “The thing about it is that I love what I do, and if I’m interested in politics there’s nothing more political than being a university president.”

“You’re in the most political non-political position as the president of Ohio State. I say this not about me, but it is often said that next to the governor, the president of Ohio State is the most powerful position in the state of Ohio, and so, why run when you’ve got a great gig?”

In the release, Chairman of the OSU Board of Trustees Robert Schottenstein said Gee told him of his plans Tuesday morning.

“This man has been an inspiration to many people, including me, and we all are forever grateful for his friendship. His thoughtful and unique leadership style has taken the University to new levels,” Schottenstein said. “His engagement with the entire Ohio State community is truly remarkable. Clearly he leaves a rich and lasting legacy and will be missed.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Alutto will serve as interim president.

Gee has come under controversy after comments at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Council meeting recently became public.

Gee made jokes about Notre Dame, and said “those damn Catholics” of Notre Dame can’t be trusted and that’s why the university was never invited into the Big Ten.

He was also recorded saying Notre Dame’s priests are “holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week.”

Gee was expected to speak at St. Francis DeSales, a Catholic high school in Central Ohio, for its graduation, however, Gee canceled before the graduation date.

He also made statements about the academic integrity of the SEC conference. Gee said as a Big Ten president, it’s his job to make sure the conference is comprised of schools that value academics, which is why “you won’t see us adding Louisville,” a Big East school, or the University of Kentucky, an SEC school.

Gee’s comments recently became public and have been a source of controversy for the president, with some calling for his termination or resignation on social media.

Gee is the third highest paid university president, earning slightly less than $1.9 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Gee has been president at OSU since October 2007, but previously served as university president from 1990-1997.

According to the OSU release, Gee has been an “extraordinary leader of Ohio State.” Under his term as president, OSU has become more selective for applicants and chaired a national commission on higher education and two state commissions at the request of Gov. John Kasich.

“Gordon has been a tremendous partner in transforming Ohio’s fragmented higher education system into one better focused on fueling Ohio’s economic recovery and helping students meet their goals,” Kasich said in a statement released Tuesday. “I am proud to call him my friend and I will be forever grateful for what he has done for Ohio.”

Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs, said he heard about Gee’s retirement shortly before it was announced Tuesday and said he was “heartbroken.”

“He’s been a tremendous leader for this university, he’s truly taken us to new heights,” Stepp said.

Stepp said Gee has left an “undullable” mark on OSU and was one of the most beloved presidents in the country.

Under Gee’s reign, the university agreed to lease its parking assets to a private investment company, QIC Global Infrastructure, for $483 million as part of a 50-year agreement. OSU also opened the Ohio Union and initiated the $170.4 million South Campus Renovation Project which includes the geothermal well project on the South Oval.

A March 11 letter from Schottenstein to Gee on the subject of Gee’s offensive comments was obtained by The Lantern, where it was written that the inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.

“On occasion your words that may be intended to bring a bit of levity to some significant issues have, in fact, had the opposite effect,” the letter said. “There have been occasions on which your comments were insensitive and inappropriate and have offended others.”

Future mishaps will result in punitive action, including dismissal, the letter said.

Gee, who has a history of making questionable remarks, apologized in an email statement to OSU faculty, students and staff May 31 and said there was “no excuse” for his comments.

Alutto is set to step down from his position as Executive Dean and Vice Provost at the end of June, when the role will be filled by Joseph Steinmetz, the executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences, on July 1.

Alutto has been with OSU since 1991 and assumed his current position in 2007, making him the second-longest serving provost in OSU history. Prior to that appointment, he was dean of the Fisher College of Business.

Alutto announced he would be retiring from his position at OSU in November, and was viewed by some to be a candidate for the interim superintendent of Columbus City Schools when current superintendent Gene Harris steps down at the end of June.

However, Alutto will be sticking around OSU a while longer as a replacement for Gee is sought. Alutto served as interim president between the time former OSU President Karen Holbrook retired June 30, 2007 and Gee assumed the position later that year.

Gee announced July 11, 2007 he would be leaving Vanderbilt University, where he served as president of the SEC school. His last day at Vanderbilt was Aug. 1, 2007.

Stepp said he has no idea who will fill Gee’s shoes, but expects USG to be heavily involved in the process.

“(We’re going to) make sure we have another president who is as student-friendly as he was,” Stepp said.

Tuesday afternoon a tweet from Gee’s account was posted describing his sentiments as outgoing president.

“As my time as president draws to a close, know that my love for Ohio State will continue to grow. #HowFirmThyFriendship,” the tweet read.

In the April 23, 2012 meeting with The Lantern staff, Gee said he will always call Columbus home.

“I’ll never retire,” Gee said. “I’ll do something that will be meaningful to me and Columbus will always be my home whether or not I go to other places and do other things. I continually have great opportunities, and it’s always good to know that other people want to have you, and I’m very good at saying ‘no,’ but I appreciate the opportunity and them asking me.”

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