Ohio State students, faculty and staff are reacting in various ways to the university’s new contract with former OSU President E. Gordon Gee.
The contract committed $5.8 million to Gee, some of which will be paid out over a five-year period, and gave Gee the office and title of president emeritus. Gee will also continue to hold a tenured position at the Moritz College of Law and to teach at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs and the College of Education. The contract was signed by Gee July 29.
Some OSU faculty members feel the contract is representative of a larger issue at OSU.
“I think that says a lot about how the big decisions at the university get made and who makes them and under what circumstances and who’s involved and who isn’t involved,” said Steven Conn, a professor of history who wrote a blog post about Gee’s contract for the Chronicle of Higher Education website.
Conn said he likes Gee personally, but he doesn’t think the Board of Trustees recognizes the damage that has been done to OSU’s reputation.
“I happened to be in Warsaw, Poland, in June, and I was at the U.S. ambassador’s house for a reception, and somebody at this reception came up to me and started talking about the ludicrous Gordon Gee and these extravagant contracts and how much money he made and his bad jokes,” Conn said. “The trustees don’t seem to be aware of what all of this has done to OSU.”
He believes some of the problem stems from not having the university community fully represented at the Board meetings.
“If you look down at the roster of the OSU Board of Trustees, you will find … one undergraduate and one graduate student,” Conn said. “But I don’t believe you’ll find a faculty member.”
Some students, though, are satisfied with the new role Gee has been given.
“He basically is Ohio State, so without him, I don’t think it would be the same. I’m glad he’s staying,” said Kelly Decker, a fifth-year in fashion and retail studies.
Decker also said she feels $5.8 million is reasonable compensation.
“He’s still going to be president emeritus, so he’s not only teaching, he’s also going to be helping Ohio State. He’s still going to be doing research for the university, so I think it’s fair,” Decker said.
Others agreed with Decker and said they’re pleased Gee is staying.
“I’m kind of happy that he’s still involved on campus even though he is not president,” said DJ Scinta, a third-year in mechanical engineering, who added that he believes the price tag is appropriate because “regarding the circumstances I don’t think he should have left Ohio State as the president.”
Some other faculty members said they believe the most noticeable aspect of Gee’s contract is that it exists.
“I think it’s unusual (that a president would) stay in the same place post-retirement,” said Michael Brandl, an assistant clinical professor of finance at Fisher College of Business and an economist.
Brandl also said the millions Gee is being promised are reasonable when taking into account what Gee will be doing.
“Economics teaches us that you can’t just look at expense, (you also have to look at his) unique background, skills set. I think ultimately (keeping Gee) is a smart move for OSU,” Brandl said. “It is difficult to quantify … How do you put a price tag on a college’s reputation? Those are the types of things you can’t just say- look at the number.”
From an economic standpoint, Brandl said those are the things he looked for when reading the contract.
“We aren’t just spending X, but what are we getting for spending X … You can’t just look at how much you are paying someone,” Brandl said. “You have to do the same thing when we look at Gee, in terms of what he is going to do with what he does as a (representative) for OSU and students. The payback is over the long term. Is it worth it?”
Brandl thinks it is.
“He’s got such a huge potential to pay back to the university and we can’t be bad managers of an organization. That’s ultimately destructive,” Brandl said.
Yet Conn, who has taught at University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Yale University in the past, said he believes on other campuses, trustee decisions on matters like Gee’s contract and the parking privatization, when the university leased campus parking to QIC Global Infrastructure for $483 million, would have created serious problems.
“At some of these other places, if something like the (lease) of the parking had gone through, Bricker Hall would have been occupied,” Conn said.
Conn doesn’t think all of the fault falls on the Board – he believes a portion of the problem lies with the OSU community.
“At some level we can point our fingers at these people, but maybe the problem here is us, too,” Conn said. “We’ve become complacent to the university.”