Former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee is slated to become the permanent president of West Virginia University, and he made sure those making the decision knew he wanted the job. A few months ago, though, he said he was not interested in pursuing another university presidency post-retirement.
“(Columbus) 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 an interview with The Lantern in October.
And after it was announced Gee would lead WVU while the school searched for a new president, he said he wasn’t looking to assume the permanent role.
“The role that I’m playing precludes me from even thinking about it,” Gee said in an interview with The Lantern in December. “My interest is of being of service and being helpful.”
Sometime before Feb. 23, however, something changed.
“President Gee has made it clear … he’d like to be the full-time president,” said WVU Student Government Association President Ryan Campione Monday. “He didn’t address the Board publicly per se, he kind of shared it with us in a note.”
Campione, who holds a seat on the WVU Board of Governors, said the note was brought to the Board’s attention Feb. 23, but he could not disclose what the note said because it was discussed during an executive session of the Board.
It looks like Gee will get his way, too, as he was named the permanent president of West Virginia University Monday, pending one last approval.
The Board of Governors unanimously voted to name Gee president during an emergency meeting Monday after the Presidential Search Committee endorsed Gee for the position in an emergency session of its own Friday, according to a WVU release.
The decision now has to go through the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to receive its approval, the release said.
Gee began as WVU’s president in January and was only set to remain in that position until a permanent president was selected. He is on an unpaid leave from OSU, where he assumed the role of president emeritus after retiring.
Gee said Monday he will accept the position at WVU.
“I am honored, energized and humbled to serve West Virginia University as the 24th president,” Gee said in a released statement. “When I had the opportunity to return to West Virginia and this university earlier this year, I did not hesitate. And, I have found it to be the same wonderful and welcoming place I remembered. And, with great joy, I also found that our university had grown, matured and was competing on the national academic stage with some of the very best land-grant research universities in the country.”
Gee was not available for comment Monday evening.
WVU is located in Morgantown, W.Va., with about 29,500 students enrolled during Fall Semester 2013.
It’s not yet clear how Gee’s appointment would affect his role at OSU. University spokesman Gary Lewis said in an email Friday questions about whether Gee would remain on unpaid leave at OSU if he was approved as WVU’s permanent president “will be answered over the next few weeks.”
Lewis added in an email Monday those questions are “still pending.”
Gee is set to have a two-year contract, the “maximum under statute,” at WVU.
As WVU’s interim president, Gee’s contract promises him an annual salary of $450,000. When that contract expires June 30, the new contract, which has not yet been negotiated, will begin, WVU spokesman John Bolt said in an email.
Gee earned slightly less than $1.9 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year at OSU. 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.
Gee 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 and the University of Colorado, and he held the office twice at OSU.
Gee was OSU’s president from 1990-97 and from 2007 to July 1, when he retired.
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.
Some OSU students said they were upset to hear Gee could be the next WVU permanent president.
“I was kind of sad about it,” said Katarina Funk, a first-year in exploration. “It’s cool that he was hanging around Ohio State and still being a part of the community even though he wasn’t president anymore.”
Others, though, said it’s a great opportunity for Gee.
“Good for him, I guess, getting a new job,” said Harrison Wickman, a fourth-year operations management and economics. “I’m glad to see he’s not just collecting a pension somewhere and he’s still working.”
Wickman said the new job suits Gee better than a position at Moritz would have.
“His advantages as a person really do come as him being a leader like the president … he wasn’t living up to his potential,” Wickman said. “So I’m sad to see that he left OSU but this is a much better fit for him. He’s very charismatic and he attracts students because of that, not because he’s a good professor.”
Wickman also said he wasn’t surprised to hear Gee had originally said he didn’t want to pursue another presidency.
“He can’t just come out and say, ‘Yeah, I want to be president somewhere else’ right away,” Wickman said. “I don’t know if it was ever a change of heart, and even if it was, good for him. If it’s something he wants to do, go and do it.”
Campione said he is “excited” by Gee’s pending appointment at WVU.
“Students are overwhelmingly supportive of President Gee,” he said. “When Friday’s decision came out … the response on Twitter and from other students around the university was overwhelmingly positive.”
Campione said one of the biggest benefits of having Gee be president is that he’s already familiar with the university’s innerworkings.
“He can quickly come in and achieve a lot and he’s already sort of done that within the month he’s been here,” Campione said.
But Campione also said the comments that stirred up public attention at the end of Gee’s second term at OSU were discussed when deciding whether to hire him. Campione said the Board listened to the tapes when it was first considering Gee as interim president to see what exactly had been said in context.
“(We) had a long, in-depth discussion of pros and cons. However, at the end of the day, we decided that the pros of Gordon Gee’s leadership style … outweighed the controversy that had happened at OSU,” Campione said.