E. Gordon Gee is like a lovable pet. The former Ohio State president brings a great character wherever he goes, but he can’t help leaving a little mess.
In his tenure as president of Brown University from 1998-2000, he made cuts to arts programs and his term ended during a related controversy. Brown actually has portable toilets called the “E. Gordon Gee Lavatory Complex” that appear during their spring weekend.
Gee’s stay as president of Vanderbilt University from 2001-07 was marked by lavish spending on himself and the unexpected cutting of Vanderbilt’s entire athletic department.
Even his stay at OSU was cut short by negative comments he made.
Gee announced his decision to retire from OSU July 1 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.
Gee, however, cannot be kept down for long. He is serving as the president of West Virginia University for the second time — he was also president of WVU from 1981-85 — and released a nice little video on WVU’s website about it Wednesday.
Gee’s “Top 10 Reasons Why It Is Great to Be Back at West Virginia University” is a lighthearted play on David Letterman’s top 10 lists. Gee says in the video he loves WVU’s cookies, its ziplines, and he loves gold and blue.
Now, Gee means a lot to OSU and anyone in connection with OSU. He also means, though, a lot of things to countless individuals outside of the OSU community. We might love him, but he is not the university itself.
In his absence, OSU has not burned to the ground. There has been no invasion of rabid wolverines and no shortage of excitement. What makes a college is not just its leader, but the thousands of people who carry its standards day in and day out.
Gee is still set to be president emeritus of OSU when a permanent WVU president is found, but for all we know, he will want to stay in the mountains. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I have a picture of myself with Gee in my old residence hall, just like I have a picture of myself with my ex in my old room back home. Wherever these people go, times were good and life goes on.
It does not matter so much who the next old leader of OSU will be, but who the next new leader will be.