Ohio State president to retire after disclosure of remarks offensive to Roman Catholics


Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee shown in 2007. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, one of the nation’s highest-paid university leaders, announced his retirement Tuesday after the disclosure of disparaging comments he made in December about Roman Catholics, the University of Notre Dame and other institutions.

Gee said in a statement that his retirement will be effective July 1. He became the university’s president in 2007 and also served in that position from 1990 to 1997.

Gee came under fire recently after the Associated Press published remarks he made in a Dec. 5 meeting of the Ohio State athletic council. The AP had obtained a recording of the meeting through a public records request.

In the meeting, Gee said Notre Dame was not invited to join the Big Ten athletic conference because of difficulties he encountered in dealing with Catholic priests who led the university.

“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell the rest of the week,” the AP quoted Gee as saying at the meeting. He continued: “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”

Gee later apologized, calling the remarks inappropriate and “a poor attempt at humor.”

Gee’s remarks to the athletic council also were viewed as dismissive of the academic record of schools in the Southeastern Conference. According to the AP, when asked about SEC fans who say the Big Ten can’t count because it is expanding to 14 members, Gee replied: “You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we’re doing.”

In addition, Gee said that the Big Ten would accept only “institutions of like-minded academic integrity.” He added: “So you won’t see us adding Louisville,” a reference to the University of Louisville.

Gee has been one of the most visible higher education leaders in the country. He recently helped launch a national initiative to focus on college completion.

Gee told The Washington Post in January that colleges sometimes focus too much on getting students in the door and taking their tuition money, and not enough on making sure they get a degree for their troubles. Too many students, as a result, fail to earn a credential that could help them get ahead in work and life.

“It breaks our heart to think about the loss of American potential by the leakage in the system,” Gee said then.

In 2007-08, Gee became the first public university president to make more than $1 million in total compensation, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. That year, he made $1.3 million. In 2011-12, the Chronicle recently reported, Gee received $1.9 million. That ranked him third in pay among public university leaders.

Gee, 69, known for his bow ties and for a tendency to make verbal gaffes, also served as chancellor of Vanderbilt University and president of Brown University, among other positions in a long administrative career.

Ohio State, with more than 56,000 students on its main campus in Columbus, is one of the nation’s largest universities. The university’s executive vice president and provost, Joseph A. Alutto, will be interim president when Gee steps down, the university said in a statement.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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