Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Constance Bumgarner Gee is not afraid to speak about her marijuana use and isn’t afraid to write about it either.
The ex-wife of Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee remembers her time as first lady and faculty member at OSU, Vanderbilt University and Brown University in “Higher Education: Marijuana at the Mansion,” her new self-published memoir.
The book’s title references a 2006 article from The Wall Street Journal subtitled “Marijuana at the Mansion,” which investigated Gordon Gee, then-chancellor of Vanderbilt, and his expenditure as a socializing fundraiser.
After five months of reporting by Joann Lublin and Daniel Golden, the front-page story described Vanderbilt’s Board of Trustees as out of touch and unable to contain then chancellor Gordon Gee. The chancellor and his wife helped raise more than $1 billion over five years while spending $700,000 per year entertaining and running the office.
The article also mentions Constance Gee briefly.
“In the fall of 2005, university employees discovered that Constance Gee, a tenured associate professor of public policy and education, kept marijuana at Braeburn (the chancellor’s mansion at Vanderbilt) and was using it there, according to people familiar with the matter.”
In an interview with The Lantern, Constance said the story was upsetting and embarrassing to her.
“It had a huge impact on my life. Being outed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal for smoking marijuana is not something I would wish on anybody,” Constance Gee said.
Five months after the Journal article was published, under pressure to distance himself from the situation, Gordon Gee filed for divorce after 13 years of marriage.
Gordon Gee told Constance Gee he could not stay chancellor of Vanderbilt while married to her. The Board of Trustees, unhappy with the negative exposure, put pressure on Gordon Gee to distance himself from his wife, and he yielded, Constance Gee said.
“It was almost an act of self-preservation because the university is him, he is the university,” Constance Gee said.
“I wouldn’t wish (divorce) on my worst enemy,” Constance Gee said in an interview with The City Paper in Nashville. “Even if you want a divorce – and I didn’t – it’s a terrible thing to go through. You used to love them – you married them! I still do love Gordon. And I believe that he still loves me. It just didn’t work out for a lot of reasons, but one of them being that it was so public, and there were a lot of people involved.”
According to the Associated Press, Constance Gee received a lump sum of $320,000 and receives $8,000 a month in alimony.
The two remain friendly after the divorce. In a statement given to The Lantern Gordon Gee said he had “finally had an opportunity to read Constance Gee’s book. She writes with grace, humor and honesty. The book does focus on the tragedy and triumph of our time together and the struggles we faced in the intense crucible of public life. Through it all we have managed to maintain our friendship and respect for each other.”
Constance Gee still considers Gordon Gee as one of the best university presidents in the country.
“He is known for his prowess as a fundraiser, and that has become the main focus of university presidents, like it or not,” Constance Gee said. “His manner, his style of running a university is very similar to that of running a corporation. I know that, that rankles a lot of people in higher education and the faculty, and I have to say that it was disappointing to me as a young faculty member – well they call it the corporitization of the American university. What it is really like at the top of the university structure – it is about fundraising.”
While at Vanderbilt, Constance Gee worked as an associate professor of public policy and education. At Brown she taught public policy, and while at OSU she worked as the director of the Arts Policy and Administration Program as well as an assistant professor of art education.
Constance Gee admits to smoking marijuana in Braeburn, the chancellor’s mansion, but for medicinal purposes. She suffers from Meniere’s disease, an inner ear ailment with symptoms from vertigo to deafness.
She said smoking marijuana has helped cure her illness.
“I took a couple puffs and the nausea, just oh, melted away,” she said in an interview with News Channel 2 in Nashville.
Six years after its publication, Constance Gee remains resentful of the circumstances under which the article was published. She says the reporters included the story of her marijuana usage to justify the long period of reporting and to sell papers.
“There was nothing to dig up,” Constance Gee said. “They were trying to see if there was any impropriety in terms of spending and there was none. We were always super, super careful about that and Gordon is very honest. What they had found was that yes he spent $700,000 per year on entertainment and running his office, but we raised $1.25 billion over those five years. When you add those numbers up that’s a pretty good return on investment.”
Co-author of The Journal article, Lublin, said in an email, “I believe our WSJ story stands on its merits.”
“We don’t publicly discuss our news gathering.” said Ashley Huston, vice president of communications at The Wall Street Journal.
Once the article went public, Constance Gee said she was told to keep quiet by the Vanderbilt lawyers. Hoping to keep her marriage with Gordon intact, she obliged.
“So I did that thinking I’d be protected in some way,” Constance Gee said. “I was not expecting to be thrown under the bus. Let’s put it that way, quite bluntly. And I was kind of, thrown under the bus.”
By publishing “Higher Education,” Constance Gee has re-opened the conversation, this time with her voice included.
“I felt like I need to clear the air on that and tell my side of the story,” she said.
Constance Gee resigned from Vanderbilt in 2010 and has become an advocate for medicinal marijuana. She has testified to Tennessee state legislature advocating for the rescheduling of cannabis.
“I want to add to the conversation. I think it’s extremely important that we revisit this issue and reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I drug, which is absurd, to hopefully Schedule III, so that we can do some legitimate research on what cannabis can do for a variety of illnesses,” Constance Gee said.
In addition to publishing “Higher Education,” Constance Gee is trying to improve as a spokeswoman for medical marijuana.
“There’s a lot to know. I went out to the NORML conference, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and spoke out there,” she said. “But I learned a lot more than I’m sure I’d like. I learned a great deal.”
Gordon Gee has seen familiar scrutiny recently after Dayton Daily News called his spending as OSU president “lavish” in an investigative article.
Gordon Gee defended the spending in a Sept. 10 interview with The Lantern.
“I’ve raised a billion and a half dollars and the university’s in the best financial shape of any institution in the country. And you know I’m the highest paid public university president in the country,” he said. “I feel it’s a privilege to be the president here, but I want to earn that salary every day.”
Constance Gee said she does not think these stories have substantial repercussions on Gordon Gee’s standing at the university.
“I would think that as long as your Board of Trustees doesn’t have a problem with it, and he continues to do the grea
t job that he does for Ohio State and raise the enormous amount of money that he does for Ohio State, that it’s probably not a huge deal,” Constance Gee said.
Constance Gee said she joked with Gordon Gee about the Dayton Daily News story.
“Hey Gordon, thanks for staying in the news it will be good for book sales,” she said. “He said ‘I’ll do anything to help you out.’ He was laughing.”