Thursday, August 1, 2013
E. Gordon Gee's Platinum Parachute
E. Gordon Gee announced on June 4 his resignation, effective July 1, as President of The Ohio State University. He was returning from a Disney Cruise. His resignation, whether voluntary or forced, was inevitable in light of his December 5 remarks at the university’s Athletic Council. He uttered his last, and most vicious, quips as a university president. The 69 year old Gee, who served as president of more universities, public and private, than anyone else, was increasingly unable to control his warped sense of humor. He was a young Dean of the West Virginia University School of Law and then President of West Virginia, followed by stints at Colorado, Ohio State, Brown, Vanderbilt, and back to Ohio State. Many celebrated his departures from Brown and Vanderbilt. Students at Brown annually celebrate the “E. Gordon Gee Lavatory Complex,” which is a collection of porta johns. He is the consummate academic leader in today’s world. He can work a crowd, glad hand, smooze, and especially fund raise, as well as any university president. He completed a $1,25 billion fundraising campaign at Vanderbilt two years ahead of schedule. His tongue though can be too facile. He suffers from a chronic case on hoof in mouth disease. He compared in 2011 the presidency of Ohio State to running the Polish army, trying to get all the divisions to work together. When the Jim Tressel scandal first broke in Columbus, he quipped that he hoped Tressel would let Gee keep his job. December 5 though went over the line. He was asked about Notre Dame and the Big Ten. He said “You just don’t trust those damn Catholics.” The priests are “Holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell the rest of the week.” He didn’t stop there. He said Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director, thought head football coach Bret Bielema was a thug. He questioned the integrity of the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, this from the President of Ohio State, which has had problems with its basketball and football programs. He didn’t think much of the SEC. They wondered why a conference with 14 teams could continue to call itself “The Big ten.” He said “You tell the SEC when they learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we’re doing.” Normally when someone resigns they forfeit the remainder of their contract, absent a specific provision to the contrary. President Gee had 4 years and roughly $6 million on his contract when he resigned. The Ohio State University disclosed Monday his new contract for 5 years and $5.8 million, which makes it sound like a negotiated or forced resignation, all statements of Ohio State not withstanding. He will now be President Emeritus of the university and retain his tenured faculty position as a professor of Law. Most presidents, chancellors, provosts, and deans will have retreat rights as a tenured faculty member in an academic unit, so his arrival at the Moritz College of Law is not a surprise. The shocker is his salary, $410,000 annually as a law professor where the dean of the law school’s last published salary was $302,007 in 2010 and the median salary of the tenured full professors at Moritz is $159,216. In other words, the ex-president, who has no record of scholarly achievement or teaching in reaching years, will be earning 2-3X the salaries of the scholars and teachers on the faculty. I would be extremely upset as one of his new colleagues if his salary is coming out of the law school budget. Ohio State’s current tuition for resident students at the law school is $28,010, which would require the full tuition of 14 2/3 Ohio students to cover his salary. My preference is that he should be paid with 410,000 buckeye nuts. The law school salary is not the end of Ohio State’s largesse. He will also receive $300,000 annually to sustain his research on 21st century education policy, as well as a $1.5 million cash buyout. His total package is $5.8 million over 5 years. I guarantee that if I, or almost any other law professor in America, abruptly resigns, my buyout will be non-existent. How can The Ohio State University justify the apparent waste of $5.8 million it, like most public universities, is being squeezed financially? The answer has to be explained by “But for Ohio State,” the $2.5 billion fundraising campaign. No matter what else can be said about Gee, he does glad hand and fund raise. The campaign has raised $1.6 billion so far, with $900 million left to go. The easy part, the silent phase, is past which means a fundraiser par excellence must close the campaign, whose goal is to move Ohio State from excellence to eminence. Ohio State already has prominence. It’s hoping to bestow a platinum parachute to raise gold.