COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — 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 obtained by The Associated Press 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.
The university declined to directly address the delay and instead referred to the events detailed by the calendar.
“Dr. Gee made his apologies as outlined,” said university spokeswoman Gayle Saunders.
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.”
In March 2010, as a memorabilia-for-cash and tattoos scandal involving then-football coach Jim Tressel heated up, Gee jokingly said that rather than consider firing Tressel, he was concerned that “the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” Later that year, Gee compared the schedules of other major college football rivals to playing the “Little Sisters of the Poor,” a remark that led to an apology to the religious order. Last year, Gee likened the challenges of running a large university to the “Polish Army,” a quip that led to another apology.
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 a public records request for the audiotape and just days before the AP first reported on the remarks on May 30. Saunders wouldn’t comment on that timing.
Gee called Alvarez on May 21 to apologize for his Dec. 5 comments, which included the Bielema quip and a remark that he would not want Alvarez as his athletic director, calling him “kind of bigger than life.” Gee traveled to Notre Dame the same day to meet with Jenkins, and on May 24 called SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to apologize, according to the calendar. During the same week, he also called University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono with an apology, according to officials at both universities.
Alvarez denied ever calling Bielema a thug, said he had accepted Gee’s apology and considered the matter closed. Notre Dame has called the remarks “regrettable” and said Jenkins had accepted Gee’s apology.
On May 31, the day after Gee’s remarks were made public, he emailed Bielema an apology. The next day, a Saturday, Gee called both Bielema and University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto to apologize.
The following day, Sunday, June 2, Gee held an 8 a.m. meeting with a number of his top officials and aides, including the university’s top communications official, chief internal lawyer and the Ohio State human resources director. Saunders said Gee met with his leadership team frequently during his tenure and it would be inaccurate to infer that such meetings noted on the calendar had anything to do with his retirement.
The same day, Gee also called University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey to apologize. Gee attended a meeting of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors in suburban Chicago later in the day, then issued a statement apologizing to the Big Ten that night.
In his Dec. 5 remarks, Gee said Delany, the Big 10 commissioner, “is very aggressive and we need to make certain he keeps his hands out of our pockets while we support him.”
Delany has called Gee’s comments “inappropriate” and said they “in no way represent the opinions of the conference.”
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.