Visits to Buddhist temples and women’s centers could have found their way onto former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee’s schedule if he hadn’t retired.
One of several remediation plans presented to OSU for consideration after controversial comments Gee made became publicly scrutinized outlined a “cultural awareness session” that included holding the session in a place to be determined, but “somewhere off campus” and in an “unfamiliar place to President Gee (i.e., a Buddhist Temple, a women’s center, etc.),” according records provided to The Lantern Wednesday morning to fill a records request filed June 15.
The aim of the plan, proposed by Edelman Public Relations, was to have Gee “develop a greater awareness of and appreciation for the myriad backgrounds, experiences and needs of the diverse population in which he serves and interacts at Ohio State University and beyond.”
The plan also included a “moment of self-reflection” section in the proposed structure, which would have posed questions to Gee asking him to “recall times when he made an assumption about someone based upon their cultural differences” and answer a variety of questions, including why he feels it is “acceptable to say and do some of these things” and how he thinks it “made them feel.”
No sessions ever occurred with any of the firms considered, though, because of Gee’s retirement, OSU assistant vice president of media and public relations Gayle Saunders said in an email.
Gee said the remediation plan was important to him before his retirement.
“I can attest to the fact that leaders of both public and private organizations are constantly looking for new ways to enhance their global perspective and leadership best practices,” he said in an email to The Lantern Wednesday. “The focused approach was something that both the board and I found important for me to do as president of the university. And before I retired as president, my team and I were working to make this happen.”
Gee made comments at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Council meeting about how “those damn Catholics” at Notre Dame can’t be trusted and that’s why the university has never been invited into the Big Ten Conference. He was also recorded saying Notre Dame’s priests are “holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week.”
Gee also made statements about the academic integrity of the SEC. He said as a Big Ten president, it was his job is to make sure the conference is comprised of schools that value academics, which is why the conference wouldn’t be adding schools like Louisville, a Big East school, or the University of Kentucky, an SEC school.
The comments attracted public criticism at the end of May before Gee announced June 4 he would be retiring from the university presidency, effective July 1. He now holds the position of OSU president emeritus.
The OSU Board of Trustees became aware of the comments Jan. 31, and a letter dated March 11 from OSU Board Chairman Robert Schottenstein to Gee outlined a remediation plan that included seeking the assistance of professionals who “could assist with revisiting your personal communications.”
Records show the Board was in contact with Edelman Public Relations, Purple Strategies, Phillips Media Relations and White Bird Rising with regards to proposed plans.
The only potential costs included in the records were for Purple Strategies and Phillips Media Relations. Purple Strategies planned to charge $10,000 for training in Washington, D.C., and Phillips Media Relations would have charged $4,500 if training was held in New York City and $6,500 if held in Columbus. OSU would have also been responsible for paying travel costs for either firm.
Records indicate that Laura Basha of White Bird Rising was selected to work with Gee. An email she sent to Andraea Douglass, OSU senior vice president for Talent, Culture and Human Relations, March 7 thanked Douglass for the “wonderful opportunity to work with you and Dr. Gee.”
Her plan, outlined in a presentation attached to an email, included an initial two and a half days “off site” with Gee – the specific plans for which were redacted – two one-hour coaching calls per month and one day-long coaching session with Gee each month for five months.
The costs for Basha’s services were redacted in the record.
Information about whether or not any money had been exchanged between OSU and any of the firms was not available Wednesday.
Some OSU students said regardless of cost, having Gee go through the proposed plans would have been outlandish.
“It’d be inappropriate because I think Gee was just kind of being offhand about his remarks and he’s obviously from a different era, but that doesn’t even matter,” said Derek Swinhart, a third-year in art and technology. “I’m sure Gee retired because of something like this because I just think it’s better for him, especially just saving face. It’d be kind of weird to have him do, like, a rehabilitation.”
Other students agreed, and said Gee was educated enough to not need the counseling.
“It’s a little bit excessive to make someone have to go through all of that,” said Liz Huller, a second-year in fashion and retail. “He’s obviously a very educated man to have been in the position that he was in, so I feel like he already had a lot of education about different cultures and things. He just worded something the wrong way and made a mistake.”