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With his trademark wit and bow tie, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee served as keynote speaker at a gathering of the Rotary Club of Toledo Monday at the Park Inn.
Mr. Gee mixed his thoughts on the future of U.S. higher education and humor, drawing numerous laughs from the crowd. He played off the rivalry with OSU and the University of Michigan and Toledo’s position as a border community.
He also referenced his memorable gaffe involving the Little Sisters of the Poor in Oregon and even gave a shout out to Sister Cecilia Mary Sartorius, mother superior of the Little Sisters.
“I will be forever grateful [to her],” he said. “She was one of the most gracious souls I’ve ever met.”
Mr. Gee made national news in 2011 for his comment that the Buckeyes football team faces tough opponents and “do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
At the time, Mr. Gee said, he was just quoting an old saying and didn’t know the order existed. After the nuns sent him a letter correcting him, he apologized and visited the facility.
Much of Mr. Gee’s speech focused on how the country has changed, where it fits in the world economy, and how higher education can play a role. China and India are growing, and the United States only can compete based on ingenuity and new ideas.
“We will never win on size and scope,” he said.
No longer is the country driven by industries based on the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing. Instead, he said, the economy is one of ideas, and he said universities will be integral in ensuring that the United States continues to develop entrepreneurs.
Mr. Gee said universities will continue to have to address affordability and said he supported Gov. John Kasich in tying state funding to graduation rates, a concept developed by a commission of university presidents Mr. Gee chaired.
“Unless we get people to graduate ... unless we stop the leaking pipeline, we will never compete,” he said.
He said OSU is pushing students into more international experiences so that they understand the world in which they will compete. And he said universities should not fear advances in online-based mass education efforts but should instead embrace new opportunities.
Mr. Gee later made many of the same points during a meeting with The Blade editorial board but also addressed a survey of public university presidents released Sunday by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Mr. Gee was ranked third nationally, with total compensation for the 2011-12 of $1.9 million; in past surveys, Mr. Gee has been rated first in compensation.
Mr. Gee said he’s been in higher education administration for more than three decades and longevity tends to lead to higher pay. But he also said he believed that the work he does for the university provides value and suggested his pay be judged based on what he provides OSU.
“I’m very well paid, and hopefully I’m doing very well,” he said.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.