How the Mighty Fall

by Jane S. Shaw

It’s hard not to like Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State, at least a little. He doesn’t have the boring, business-like seriosity of many university presidents. His $1.9 million salary (which made him the third-top-earning public-university president in academic year 2011–12) is big, but he is an impressive fund-raiser. We may not like it, but that’s what presidents do these days, and he fits the president’s role to a T.

Wearing a jaunty bow tie, the president was used to saying things out of school, and perhaps it was inevitable that he would eventually run into a buzz saw. Campuses are jittery with tension about what to say and how to say it. He didn’t sin the greatest of “political correctness” sins when he criticized Catholics, especially Notre Dame Catholics, since they are not the most favored groups around, but his language was totally inappropriate. He was, simply, too cavalier. In the end, he left under pressure, following a reprimand from the board of trustees.

I don’t think he was fired; I think he has that type of dominating personality that leads him, when irritated, to take his marbles and go home. As Inside Higher Ed points out, he has headed six universities (the first, West Virginia University, at age 37) and has sometimes left abruptly. At 69 years of age, he’s probably going to resurface in the world of higher education (or raising money for a nonprofit organization).

What does this tell us? Just that, in the world of universities, where reputation is almost everything, presidents can’t embarrass the university without repercussions. Gee did that. It will be interesting to see if his successor raises funds nearly as well.

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