What You Should Know About Gordon Gee, Part 1: The Legacy of WVU’s Interim

This is part one of a two part series on Gordon Gee. 

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

So as you probably know, WVU’s former president Jim Clements has left the University. Before a new president can be selected, WVU appointed a temporary interim president, none other than the bowtie-wearing superhero Gordon Gee. He’s making the rounds around campus Tuesday.

Gee, a former WVU president, has made a name for himself in university circles. Not only has he been the charismatic president of universities like Brown, Vanderbilt and Ohio State, but as we’ll soon discover, he’s been in the news recently – not necessarily for good things.

So what should we know about Gee?

1. While at Ohio State University, Gee was the highest paid CEO of any public university in the United States. Since returning in 2007, he’s made $8.6 million in salary and compensation. What’s worse are his expenses: he’s spent nearly $7.7 million on university-approved activities, from flying around the globe to wining and dining prospective faculty and donors. Records show Gee staying in high-end hotels, flying on private jets and throwing lavish parties, all on the public dime.

He’s spent tens of thousands on bow ties alone.  Since 2007, OSU has spent $64,000 on bow ties, bow tie cookies (the equivalent of our flying WV cookies, I’m told by reputable sources) and bow tie lapel pins to distribute. (I’m also told the majority of this budget was spent on the cookies and pins – no diamond-studded ties in there.*)

Student fees at OSU increased 13.6% over the five years when Gee was president, which makes these expenditures worse. I doubt he’ll have this kind of spending leisure at WVU.

2. Gee used to serve on the Board of Directors of Massey Energy, a coal empire with record-setting environmental violations. Gee was on the BoD for more than a decade until he finally retired under pressure from environmental groups and students at OSU. He was still on the board while president at OSU. He also served on a board committee responsible for overseeing Massey’s environmental impact and worker safety, which is where the problems start.

As reported by the eminent Ken Ward on Coal Tattoo, Gee has openly defended Massey’s environmental and safety practices. In 2009 he told a student newspaper just how he feels.

“I think if you take a look at Massey’s record, it has one of the best environmental records in the country.”

A bold statement, especially considering in 2008 Massey was forced to pay $20 million in penalties to the Environmental Protection Agency – the largest penalty in the EPA’s history for wastewater discharge violations. There’s too many problems to list, so check out the awesome blog Coal Tattoo for the full story. 

Gee’s history of selective environmental ignorance could pose a problem at WVU. Petroleum drilling is a big issue for West Virginia, and Morgantown has already faced legal battles over fracking. 

3. Gee’s great at making gaffes. Oh man, there’s a whole list.

January 2012: An appearance at a Columbus athletic club ends with a colorful metaphor. When answering a question about unifying different parts of the University:

“When we had these 18 colleges all kind of floating around, they were kind of like PT Boats. They were shooting each other,” Gee said. “It was kind of like the Polish army or something. I have no idea what it was.”

May 30, 2013. At a meeting with Athletic Councilors, Gee took a number of cheap shots at Catholics at Notre Dame, referring to Notre Dame officials as “damn Catholics.” This gaffe convinced Gee to retire from OSU.

“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” he said. “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”

Gee is a Mormon, for the record. Some hilarity – had he not retired, Gee would have taken sensitivity training, potentially at a Buddhist temple!

May 31, 2013 (as in one day later). Gee shares some choice words about Brett Bielema, Wisconsin’s coach, with whom he’s had a history:

“Someone was saying to me, well, you know, Bret Bielema leaving … that was a blessing for Wisconsin and they knew it,” Gee said. “Because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn’t like him. Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff.”

Lesson learned: Gee has no filter. Hopefully his staff can keep him reined in.

So with all of these problems, why would we want somebody like Gee here at WVU, filling in during one of the most important times in our history? Check in Thursday to find out.

What do you think about Gee? Let us know in the comments or tweet at me.

*EDITED, 10:07 pm. 12/9: Friend , teacher and SPJ Ethics Chair Kevin Z. Smith gives some good insight to the “bowtie budget” fiasco. Thanks Kevin!