Vol. 38, No. 18
By: Richard Gillette
Trustees name Gordon Gee university's 14th president
Less than 24 hours after being named Ohio State’s 14th president, Gordon Gee was on campus showing why he was hired to lead the university.
The day after the Board of Trustees voted unanimously July 12 to hire him, Gee, in his trademark bowtie, toured campus and met with faculty, staff and students. He gave a glimpse of what the university can expect during his tenure.
Often Gee passed on a handshake and gave faculty and staff — some he knew from the past and most he met for the first time — a hug or a pat on the back. He was genuine in his greetings, looking as if he wanted to remember the name of each person he met.
His large smile was infectious. A group of elementary-school-aged children swarmed around him when he greeted them on campus. University students who met him treated him like a rock star, giving him high fives and hugs.
University Student Government President Kate Christobek was impressed with Gee after walking around campus with him.
“I had been told by others when he was last here that he got involved with student issues. Talking with him today, I got to see that side of him,” she said.
When he returned to the trustees’ regularly scheduled meeting, Gee said the tour was inspirational.
“I was impressed with what I saw on the quick tour. I met with some great faculty and staff and I let them know we need to make sure we have a great partnership. It was a day filled with pride and enthusiasm,” he said.
Gee was president at Ohio State from 1990 to 1997, before moving on to spend two years as president at Brown and seven years as Vanderbilt’s chancellor. Before his tenure at Ohio State, he was president of West Virginia University at age 37 and then at the University of Colorado.
He returns to Ohio State to replace Karen Holbrook, who retired in June after five years as president.
His selection came after a one-year search by the 24-member Presidential Search Committee. But Gee said his decision came after he flew to Columbus by himself and toured campus on the Sunday prior to his hiring.
“I was home, and I knew that I needed to come and I made the decision right then. It was nothing about Vanderbilt, it was nothing about money or issues, or any problems that pushed and pulled. It was simply that my heart told me what to do and that’s what I did,” Gee said.
“This was pure and simple a spiritual decision.”
Trustees praised his hiring.
“Gordon Gee reflected the Buckeye spirit, that sense of pride recognized by more than 400,000 alumni across the world,” said trustee Alex Shumate, who chaired the search committee.
Gee, 63, said he “was a more mature leader, with clarity of purpose” than when he left the university, but added his return was not just about him.
“This is Ohio State’s time. This is the university of the American dream,” he said.
“This university is poised to move from excellence to eminence.”
Gee, who said Ohio State would be his last stop as a university president, hinted at what would be a part of his agenda when he arrives autumn quarter. He said the university needs to increase access and diversity among students, integrate student-athletes into student life and collaborate on academic issues.
He added the university’s size should not hold it back.
“We are the most massive intellectual platform in America gathered on one campus. But we will only be that if we can think and act and operationalize ourselves as one university. We can’t be 18 colleges connected by a heating plant.”
But Gee said he understood how the university had changed since he left and told members of the University Staff Advisory Committee at a Faculty Club reception that he felt it had gone from a “good university to a great university.”
“I pledge to USAC absolute support and commitment. Everyone will be valued at this institution. Our staff will have the opportunity, expectation and right to be a part of what we do,” he said.
The trustees offered Gee a seven-year contract, paying him $775,000 a year with an additional $250,000 in deferred annual compensation that he will receive if he stays five years.
Gee said the years he has spent away from Ohio State have taught him to better understand, identify, create and sustain academic excellence.
He expects faculty, staff and students to hold him accountable to that standard.
“Hold me to that standard. Expect that of me. Make certain that I say what I am and what I do,” Gee said.