By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS: Former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee took his time apologizing for remarks he made that were critical of the University of Notre Dame, Roman Catholics and Southeastern Conference schools, among several of his targets during off-the-cuff comments last year, records show.
Although university trustees directed Gee in a March 11 letter to begin issuing personal apologies “promptly,” he didn’t make the first of those apologies until May 20, during a previously scheduled meeting with the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, according to a copy of Gee’s calendar the Associated Press obtained through a records request.
Gee followed that meeting with a series of apologetic phone calls to presidents and other officials at several universities he jabbed in Dec. 5 remarks to the university’s Athletic Council. Those apologies included a May 21 trip to Notre Dame to meet in person with the university’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, according to the calendar and officials at Ohio State and other universities.
Ohio State declined to directly address the delay and instead referred to the events detailed by the calendar.
“Dr. Gee made his apologies as outlined,” university spokeswoman Gayle Saunders said.
The apologies began after the university reviewed the Associated Press’ May 13 request for the audiotape and just days before the Associated Press first reported on the remarks May 30. Saunders wouldn’t comment on that timing.
Gee, 69, retired July 1. He will remain at the university as a law professor, but details of his retirement package haven’t been released.
Ohio State, one of the country’s biggest universities with 65,000 students, has named provost Joseph Alutto as interim president.
“The university continues our focus on the strategic direction of the university under the leadership of Interim President Alutto,” said Saunders, who said she was speaking for the university and Gee. Asked for comment, Gee deferred to Saunders in an email Thursday.
In the audiotaped remarks to the Athletic Council, Gee criticized Notre Dame, saying the university was never invited to join the Big Ten because the school’s religious leaders are not “good partners.”
Gee, a Mormon, also jokingly referred to “those damn Catholics,” lampooned the academic integrity of the University of Louisville and Southeastern Conference schools, singling out the University of Kentucky. He alleged that University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez considered former Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema a “thug.” Gee also made mildly disparaging remarks about Alvarez and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.
Gee also laughingly suggested that someone would have to “shoot” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith before Smith would allow the University of Cincinnati to join the Big Ten.
Trustees learned of the remarks in late January and following a series of meetings with Gee directed him in the March 11 letter to make amends. Among those requirements: “Issuing personal apologies, as appropriate, to any group that you have offended.”
The same letter made mention of other past remarks that have “sometimes embarrassed and divided us.”
A week after receiving the trustees’ letter, Gee emailed Jenkins, the Notre Dame president, and asked without explanation if they could meet when Gee traveled to South Bend, Ind., “in the near future.” Jenkins responded the same day that he would “very much welcome a visit.”
Two weeks after the letter, a contrite Gee referred to his penchant for misspeaking in a March 29 address to the Columbus Metropolitan Club. “Those kinds of off-hand comments do not reflect my own thinking and certainly they are not the Ohio State ideals,” he said.
But Gee’s direct apologies for the Dec. 5 remarks did not begin in earnest until May 20, when his office was already reviewing the request for the audiotape.
On Tuesday, June 4, Gee had breakfast with trustee chairman Bobby Schottenstein and lunch with Gov. John Kasich, according to the calendar. During the lunch with Kasich, which had been previously scheduled, Gee informed the governor of his decision to retire, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols confirmed in a text message.
Gee met with other top officials during the day, then announced his retirement in a conference call with reporters around 3 p.m., followed by an email to the campus community.