Gordon Gee apologizes to Big 10 and Arkansas coach
Gordon Gee issued a new set of apologies over the weekend.
The Ohio State University president was apologizing at the end of last week for comments he made at an athletics council meeting at the university. A recording revealed that he had made disparaging remarks about the University of Notre Dame and about Roman Catholics. He said that Notre Dame wasn't invited to join the Big 10 because priests are not good partners, and "those damned Catholics" can't be trusted. He also said that "the fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week."
When the full recording was heard, Gee could also be heard discussing Big 10 business and gossip, some of which he now says was untrue. For instance, Gee said on the recording that Barry Alvarez, the athletics director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was happy when Bret Bielema left his position as head football coach for a similar position at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. On the recording, Gee said that Alvarez thought Bielema was "a thug." Alvarez denied saying or thinking that.
A choice quote from Gee on the Big 10 was that with the addition of Rutgers University and the University of Maryland at College Park, the conference "is worth more money than God."
On Sunday evening, Ohio State released a statement from Gee in which he outlined new apologies he had made during the day.
"This morning, I apologized to the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors for hurtful remarks I made last December in a misguided attempt at humor. I am grateful to my colleagues and to the Big Ten Conference leadership for accepting my apology. The Big Ten universities are some of this country's most highly accomplished research institutions, working together to solve some of the world's most vexing problems and educating young people for global leadership. It is my honor to lead a Big Ten member university.
"I was especially glad for the opportunity to reaffirm my respect and admiration for the University of Wisconsin. It is important to note that my related comments about Coach Bret Bielema -- now at the University of Arkansas -- were entirely unfounded, inaccurate and unfair. Without question, Coach Bielema is a remarkably successful professional. I called him yesterday, and he was most gracious. I am reasserting my apology with this statement."
As the controversy has unfolded, some have suggested that Gee would get by with a slap on the wrist from his board, and several commenters on this website suggested that a president who made comments that offended certain groups other than Roman Catholics might well have been fired.
A letter from Ohio State University trustees to Gee, the Associated Press reported, suggested that the board does not want any more offensive statements from Gee (who has a history of them prior to this most recent controversy). "On occasion your words that may be intended to bring a bit of levity to some significant issues have, in fact, had the opposite effect. There have been many occasions on which your comments were insensitive and inappropriate and have offended others. As a result, instead of your words promoting and uniting us, they have sometimes embarrassed and divided us," the letter said.
It added that "should future instances take place, they could constitute cause for even more punitive action, including dismissal."
Gee has enjoyed strong support from his board, which has paid him exceptionally well and lured him back for a second tour as president at Ohio State, having led Brown University and Vanderbilt University in between. Gee has been credited for phenomenal fund-raising ability and for hiring top administrators and faculty members. He has been beloved by many students and alumni.
He also has a history of putting his foot in his mouth -- always apologizing and usually saying he was trying to be humorous.
Of Gee's previous gaffes, the one that attracted the most attention from faculty (not just at Ohio State) was a 2011 remark as a football scandal was escalating, and he was asked if he had considered firing Jim Tressel, the football coach. Gee said, "Are you kidding? I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me." Gee later did push for Tressel's resignation, but to many professors, the idea that presidents report to football coaches (an idea they fear has some truth to it) isn't something to joke about.
Gee also offended Polish-American groups when he compared the job of leading a complicated university to running "the Polish army," and he offended a religious order (and the football programs at Boise State University and other institutions) when he said Ohio State played top programs in football, not "the little sisters of the poor."