Ohio State President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee will soon hold the title of two-time two-term president.
Gee accepted and was approved as president of West Virginia University Friday, making WVU the second school where Gee has served two terms as university leader.
He said Friday the new position is a chance to return the favor to WVU for launching his career as a higher education institution leader.
“At age 36, the people of West Virginia and of West Virginia University gave me the opportunity to become a university president which has (been) a singular blessing in my life and such a remarkable opportunity,” Gee said in an interview with The Lantern. “When they called and asked if I would come back for a period and help make a transition to their new president, I thought that was a great opportunity for me, and (at) the same time, because it’s not a long-term commitment, I could continue my commitment to (OSU) and to the people of the state and to my … project that I’m doing for the governor.”
He began his career of leading higher education institutions at WVU in 1981. He was the dean of WVU’s law school prior to his four-year stint as president. Gee later was president at Brown University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Colorado and held the top office twice at OSU.
Gee was OSU’s president from 1990-97 and from 2007 to July 1, when he retired.
His term as WVU president is set to begin in early January, and he will likely remain in that position until a permanent president is selected. While Gee is there, though, he will be on an unpaid leave of absence from OSU, said OSU assistant vice president of media and public relations Gayle Saunders.
“The leave of absence is treated the same as for other faculty member. He maintains his Ohio State professional titles, as is the practice for faculty taking leaves of absence,” Saunders said in an emailed statement.
West Virginia University’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve the selection of Gee Thursday. That selection was then approved Friday by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
Gee said he was approached about the position a couple of weeks ago.
“WVU contacted me about two weeks ago, I then mentioned it to several of the (OSU) senior officers about that I was looking at it, so there was no surprise here,” Gee said. “When I thought about it over the week and over the day or several days, and I realized that I was able to (continue) my obligations here and there, then the interest became much more prevalent because I simply would not be able to have done that and I probably would not have taken on this responsibility.”
Gee was originally planning to teach at Harvard University’s law school next semester, but said he changed his mind in favor of the WVU presidency. He said he chose to give up the Harvard opportunity because WVU is an “institution that I greatly admire.”
Gee said he’ll continue his work on Gov. John Kasich’s Quality and Value Initiative, a study he is leading to seek ways to improve Ohio’s higher education institutions. He added that he’s excited to keep working on the project because of its broader implications.
“I think that there are few of many projects in higher education that are more important, and with the support of the governor of a major state, to really take a look at the reformation of higher education in a positive way,” Gee said. “It’s something that I think is most significant but also important for the wider world of higher education.”
The position at WVU likely won’t last long — the WVU Board of Governors expects to select a new president by about June 5, according to West Virginia MetroNews.
Gee said he doesn’t intend to pursue the permanent presidency.
“The role that I’m playing precludes me from even thinking about it,” Gee said. “My interest is of being of service and being helpful.”
The position opened up after former WVU President Jim Clements was announced as the new Clemson University president Nov. 11.
Gee announced his decision to retire from OSU days after controversial comments he made at a Dec. 5, 2012, OSU Athletic Council meeting came under public scrutiny. Remarks about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.
Despite the criticism that came from the incident, Gee said he doesn’t have any hesitations about heading back into the spotlight.
“I love what I’ve done here (at OSU) and I greatly value my continued relationship in particular (with) the students,” he said.
His annual salary at WVU is set to be $450,000, according to a WVU and OSU press release.
Gee earned slightly less than $1.9 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Gee’s base salary as president emeritus and a tenured professor in the OSU Moritz College of Law, his new position at OSU post-retirement, was set to be $410,000, to be paid each year from 2013 through June 2018.
Some OSU students said they aren’t bothered by Gee’s decision to accept the WVU presidency.
“Personally, I’m not a fan of Gee. I don’t think he has the students’ interest in mind, just himself and his money,” said Sarah Almusbahi, a third-year in international studies and neuroscience. “I’m not upset at all that he’s leaving.”
Others, though, were unhappy to hear the news of his temporary departure.