Retiring Ohio State president cites age, family
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State University President Gordon Gee attempted to make his retirement announcement personal on Wednesday, citing everything from his age to his 7-month-old twin granddaughters to a California girlfriend as reasons for his abrupt departure next month.
He continued to downplay the furor over remarks first reported by The Associated Press jabbing Roman Catholics, Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference, comments taken seriously enough by university trustees that they threatened in March to fire him for further verbal transgressions.
If anything, the remarks helped Gee reflect on what he wanted to do next, he said at a morning news conference.
“It played that role but not a defining role in terms of my own conversation with myself,” Gee said.
Gee left that news conference for a closed-door meeting with board trustees to discuss a long-term university plan. He said that upcoming project is another reason he wants to step down now rather than later. He couldn’t say when asked if he would have made a different decision had the remarks, recorded in December, not been made public last week.
Gee explained away the one-month notice he gave Tuesday by citing a desire not to stay on any longer than he has to.
“I’m not a victory lap guy,” Gee said Wednesday. “The last thing I want to do is be queen for a day. I want to move on. I want the university to move on.”
Trustee chairman Robert Schottenstein denied Gee had been forced out.
In Dec. 5 comments to the university Athletic Council, Gee jokingly referred to “those damn Catholics” at Notre Dame and poked fun at the academic quality of other schools. He apologized when the comments were disclosed, saying they were “a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate.”
Ohio State at the time called the comments unacceptable and said it had placed Gee on a remediation plan to change his behavior.
It was the latest in a string of remarks Gee has made in recent years that put him in hot water, though the first that brought such a strong warning from trustees. He apologized last year for likening the difficulties of coordinating various university divisions to the Polish Army.
In 2011, Gee got egg on his face for saying at a news conference that rather than firing his embattled football coach he was worried that the coach “doesn’t dismiss me.”
In 2010, he apologized for criticizing other big-time football programs for having a schedule equivalent to playing “the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
Gee, 69, wearing one of his trademark bowties, said he was finding it more and more difficult to do his job the way he wants, which is like a man half his age.
“I want to run it in the way that I can run full tilt,” said Gee, how says he’s in good health. “And so I don’t ever want to ever lose a step.”
Gee, a Mormon, said the opportunity to hold his twin granddaughters in his arms on a recent cruise gave him pause.
“I’m sitting on the deck of the ship, and I’m rocking these little girls, and I’m thinking this is the first time I’ve ever rocked a child for 33 years,” said Gee, who in a tweet later in the morning said life “is all about perspective” and included a picture of his granddaughters.
Gee also said he and his “significant other” in California, whom he didn’t identify, were having a difficult time figuring out how “we’re going to make this work.”
Gee likely will stay and teach at the law school and help raise money.
Ohio State, one of the biggest universities in the nation, with 65,000 students, has named provost Joseph Alutto as interim president.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus