After a turbulent few months, Ohio State President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee is committed to his role at the university. The former president has no plans to leave OSU, and while Gee has been university president four distinct times — twice at OSU — he isn’t planning to pursue the role at another institution.
“This is my home, and look, I’ve done this longer than any person in this country, and I’ve had the greatest opportunities at the greatest institution one could possibly imagine. But I’m really committed to making a difference by doing what I’m doing now, by actually being engaged in this university family but also engaged in and talking about the issues of higher education,” Gee said in a Monday interview with The Lantern.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced Monday Gee would play a large role in a state higher education initiative focused on affordability. Gee and Kasich have worked together on higher education initiatives in the past, including earlier this year when Kasich asked Gee to work on an effort to identify a solution to divide the education dollars for the state budget.
Gee has been asked many times before if he would ever consider public office, but his answer has consistently been a resounding no.
“I’ve always said being university president is the most political non-political position in the state,” Gee said. “I think I can affect policy in this role from this institution from this platform better than almost any other way. I’ve had opportunities going around other institutions and opportunities to run for office, even recently, but it’s just that I’m very happy with what I’m doing right now.”
Gee’s assistant Jason Shough did not disclose particulars in a follow-up email about Gee’s public office interests, and reiterated Gee is “not interested in running for office.”
This week it was reported OSU has committed a sum of money to Drive Capital, a venture capital fund launched by Mark Kvamme earlier this year.
Gee serves on the board for JobsOhio, a private state development agency once headed by Kvamme, that has been a key initiative for Kasich during his tenure as governor.
According to reports by The Cleveland Plain Dealer, OSU and Drive Capital reached an agreement worth $50 million in July, soon after Gee left the presidency.
Gee released a statement to The Lantern via Shough Thursday.
“I am so glad that the priority on investing in education, research and job creation that I championed as president has continued. The current administration’s support for innovation, as evidenced by its decision to invest in Drive Capital — which I enthusiastically supported — enhances creative opportunities for students, faculty and staff,” Gee said, according to the statement. “It is my hope that such approaches can become a model for other higher education institutions to follow.”
Gee announced June 4 he was retiring from his role as university president, days after controversial remarks he made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Conference meeting came under public scrutiny. Comments, which he later called “inappropriate,” about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.
Aside from his statewide work, Gee is slated to teach at Harvard next semester and is penning three books. Gee plans to spend his retirement focused, but relaxed.
“One always has to reinvent themselves, and at this point in my life, I have a lot to contribute in a different way and I want to take full advantage of that opportunity,” Gee said.
Over homecoming weekend, Gee gave a leadership lecture at West Point, an opportunity he had to pass up in previous years due to the “tremendous” number of obligations he had during homecoming as president.
“I am now able to take advantage of some opportunities that I have never been able to take advantage of before,” he said.
Since his retirement, he’s been acclimating to his new role with the university. He won’t be playing a part in the presidential search, but said he’ll be available for assistance if it is requested of him. Gee, however, said he trusts the OSU search committee and Board of Trustees to make a good selection.
“The likelihood is that anyone they appoint I know very well, maybe they even worked for me,” Gee said.
Having done the job twice, Gee knows the ropes of the role. What he would tell OSU’s next president, though, is between him and the selectee.
“If the next university president wants to know my advice, I’ll write it on a piece of paper and hand it to him privately, as a matter of fact,” Gee said. “I think that they’ll hire someone who will be very wise.”
Wise enough to handle the day-to-day challenges, Gee said, that were the hardest part of his job.
“There are so many moving parts of an institution that you’re never fully aware where challenges are until they come up and are an emergency,” Gee said. “Any given day, you start off your day with the anticipation of doing good deeds and good ways, and you always end up in a 911 situation.”
Those day-to-day obligations, however, are no longer part of Gee’s job description. Relaxing in a chair in his new, less ornate office, the man donned his classic bow tie and suspenders but opted out his normal suit jacket. Gee came off as, in his words, “joyful.”
“I didn’t put on my coat but that’s all right, I am what I am.”
This article is the third part of a three-day series exploring E. Gordon Gee’s role at Ohio State post-presidency.
Correction: Oct. 28, 2013
Jason Shough’s name was initially spelled wrong in this article. It was been changed to reflect the correct spelling.