'Damn Catholics' remark school head quits

2013-06-05 16:01
Former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee speaks during the commencement ceremony at Ohio State University in May. (File, AFP)

Former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee speaks during the commencement ceremony at Ohio State University in May. (File, AFP)

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Columbus — Ohio State's president announced he will retire after remarks he made about "damn Catholics" at a rival university became public.

Gordon Gee's remarks, jokingly referring to Roman Catholics at the University of Notre Dame and poking fun at the academic quality of other schools, were first reported last week by The Associated Press. Ohio State, one of the largest US universities with 65 000 students, at the time called the remarks unacceptable and said it had placed Gee on a "remediation plan" to change his behaviour.

Gee said the furore over the remarks was only one of several factors that led to his decision. He also cited his age and the start of a long-term planning process at the university.

Last year, Gee apologised for saying that co-ordinating the school's many divisions was like running the Polish army, a remark that a Polish-American group called bigoted.

Gee was named the country's best college president in 2010 by Time magazine. He has held the top job at West Virginia University, the University of Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt. He was Ohio State president from 1990 to 1997 and returned in 2007. He makes about $1.9m a year in base pay, retirement benefits and other compensation.

Gee reshaped Ohio State into a leading academic institution. Yet Gee couldn't stop staying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

No regrets

Gee, aged 69, announced his retirement on Tuesday. Even then, he couldn't play it straight at the end of a hastily called news conference.

"I've only got a month to ruin the university," he joked. "I've got to get at it."

Gee said he didn't regret the way he conducted himself as a higher education leader.

"I have regrets when I have said things that I shouldn't have said, but I have no regrets about having a sense of humour and having a thick skin and enjoying life," he said.

According to a recording of a 5 December meeting obtained by the AP under a public records request, Gee, a Mormon, said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten athletic conference because "you just can't trust those damn Catholics".

Gee also took shots at schools in the Southeastern Conference and the University of Louisville, according to the recording of the meeting of the school's Athletic Council.


Gee apologised when the comments were disclosed, saying they were "a poor attempt at humour and entirely inappropriate".

Robert Schottenstein, who as chairperson of the university's board of trustees condemned the remarks last week as "wholly unacceptable" and "not presidential in nature", deflected questions about whether Gee had been forced out by the board.

Ohio State named provost Joseph Alutto as interim president.

Gee, a familiar figure on campus with his bowties and owlish glasses, has repeatedly gotten in trouble over the years for verbal gaffes. Tuesday's news lit up Twitter, with numerous posts using the hashtag #savethebowtie.

Ohio State trustees learned of Gee's latest remarks in January and created the remediation plan. In a 11 March letter, the trustees warned any repeat offenses could lead to his firing and ordered him to apologise to those he offended. But it appeared that several of Gee's apologies came only in the last week or so as the school prepared to respond to the AP's inquiries.

Gee said on Tuesday he waited until recently to apologise in person to the Notre Dame president, the Reverend John Jenkins, because they had a long-scheduled meeting. Schottenstein said the board was satisfied with Gee's response to the letter.

In the recording of his meeting with the Athletic Council, Gee said the top goal of Big Ten presidents is to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity. So you won't see us adding Louisville". After laughter from the audience, Gee added that the Big Ten wouldn't add the University of Kentucky, either.

Gee came under fire in 2011 for some offhand remarks he made during a scandal on football coach Jim Tressel's watch. Asked whether he had considered firing Tressel, Gee said: "No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

Read more on:    roman catholic church  |  us  |  religion

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