A white T-shirt that read “Party On Gordon” was spread on the back of the chair Ohio State President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee sat in during a Monday interview with The Lantern. Complete with a cartoon version of Gee wearing his signature round lens glasses and bow tie, the shirt embodied the emotional attachment many Gee admirers have expressed in the months since the former president retired.
“It’s great to be on this campus. You know, I love Ohio State, I love the energy of the place, I love having the chance to continue to be with students and with faculty and with staff and an opportunity to hopefully make a difference from a different platform,” Gee said.
In his retirement, Gee will be working on a statewide higher education initiative that was announced by Gov. John Kasich Monday, continuing work on his three books and teaching classes at Harvard next semester.
For him, though, OSU is home.
“I love the fact that students still invite me out to their parties and a variety of other things, and I’ll go when I can … that does not detract from either me or the new (president), what it is is the fact that I hope in some ways I can contribute to a continuously joyful culture of this institution,” he said.
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.
With Gee on the sidelines, OSU is searching for a new university president. A shift in power has changed Gee’s role in the administration, and while Gee is no longer leading the charge, his admirers still look to him as the face of the university.
How this will influence OSU’s next president has yet to be seen, but Interim President Joseph Alutto said it will be a challenge to overcome.
“There is an issue here, which ultimately a new president is going to have to face, and that is the brand of the university has to be the brand of the university and not the brand of the president,” Alutto said in a Sept. 23 interview with The Lantern. “And I think it’s really important for us as we make a transition. You know, Gordon is such a special individual and a unique presence. But ultimately, this is about Ohio State, not about who is the president.”
Gee said he is close to Alutto, who took office July 1 — the same day Gee retired — despite the role reversal, which he admitted can at times be “a little awkward.”
“It is very difficult for both of us in one sense. I’ve never been on a campus in which I haven’t been in charge. So the question is, do you disappear and go into the woodwork or do you remain active?” Gee said. “He worked for me. So all the sudden I’m working for him.”
Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said Gee’s “magnetism” has lent him a strong following of supporters, but Steinmetz is confident the OSU community will find a way to rally around a new university president.
“The institution is bigger than any of the personalities ever that’s inside of it,” Steinmetz said in an Oct. 8 interview with The Lantern. “Presidents come and go, provosts come and go, the institution has been here a long time, and I’m really confident that we’ll move on.”
Gee said he hopes to have a “wonderful” relationship with the next president, but said he wants to make it “very clear to everyone he or she is the president, I’m not.”
“My goal should be to make sure the next president is the most successful president in the history of the institution,” he said.
Candidates and finalists for the position of university president are being shielded from the public eye. OSU signed a contract worth more than $220,000 Sept. 17 with R. William Funk & Associates, a private Dallas-based search firm. The university is set to pay the firm a fixed fee of $200,000, as well as reimburse the firm for direct, out-of-pocket expenses, and an additional $20,000 to cover administrative and support expenses, according to the contract.
Gee said he is not at all involved in the search, nor does he think that would be appropriate. He said he trusts the search committee and Board of Trustees to find suitable candidates for “the best job in the country.”
“I have great confidence in our trustees. They did appoint me, so I think they know how to do things pretty well,” Gee said.
This article is the second part of a three-day series exploring E. Gordon Gee’s role at Ohio State post-presidency. Check out The Lantern tomorrow for continued coverage.