COLUMBUS — Ohio State University President Gordon Gee tried to make his retirement announcement personal Wednesday, citing everything from his age to his 7-month-old twin granddaughters to a California girlfriend as reasons for his abrupt July 1 departure.
He continued to downplay the furor over remarks jabbing Roman Catholics, Notre Dame, and the Southeastern Conference, comments taken seriously enough by university trustees that they threatened in March to fire him for further verbal transgressions.
“It played that role but not a defining role in terms of my own conversation with myself,” Mr. Gee said.
Mr. Gee, 69, left that news conference for a closed-door meeting with board trustees to discuss a long-term university plan. He said that upcoming project is another reason he wants to step down now rather than later.
Mr. Gee explained away the one-month notice he gave Tuesday by citing a desire not to stay on any longer than he must. “I’m not a victory-lap guy,” Mr. Gee said. “The last thing I want to do is be queen for a day. I want to move on. I want the university to move on.”
Mr. Gee likely will stay and teach at the law school and help raise money.
Trustee Chairman Robert Schottenstein denied Mr. Gee had been forced out.
In Dec. 5 comments to the university Athletic Council, Mr. Gee jokingly referred to “those damn Catholics” at Notre Dame and poked fun at the academic quality of other schools. He apologized when the comments were disclosed, saying they were “a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate.”
It was the latest in a string of remarks Mr. Gee has made in recent years that put him in hot water, though it was the first that brought such a strong warning from trustees. He apologized last year for likening the difficulties of coordinating various university divisions to the Polish Army.
In 2011, Mr. Gee got egg on his face for saying at a news conference that rather than fire his embattled football coach, he was worried that the coach “doesn’t dismiss me.”
In 2010, he apologized for criticizing other big-time football programs for having a schedule equivalent to playing “the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor religious order, whose mission includes caring for the elderly through assisted living and skilled care facilities, operates 30 affiliated nursing homes, including one in Oregon.
But don’t count the local affiliate among those who wanted Mr. Gee ousted.
Sister Cecilia Mary Sartorius, superior-president of the order’s Sacred Heart Home in Oregon, said in a statement Wednesday she had long forgiven Mr. Gee for the quip he made.
The Little Sisters order in the Toledo area was as surprised as anyone by Mr. Gee’s retirement, Sister Cecilia Mary said.
“We fondly remember his visit to our home in August, 2011, when he brought a whole bus full of OSU students here for a visit to the Sacred Heart Home,” Sister Cecilia Mary said. “The OSU students and President Gee brought a lot of joy to our elderly residents, and he publicly apologized for his statement about the Little Sisters of the Poor, which I accepted and forgave him for.”
Mr. Gee, wearing a trademark bowtie, said he was finding it more and more difficult to do his job the way he wants.
Ohio State, one of the biggest universities in the nation with 65,000 students, has named Provost Joseph Alutto interim president.