Friday, May 31, 2013

Ohio State President's Jokes Insult Notre Dame, Catholics, U of L, U of K, and the Whole SEC

I blogged two years ago about Ohio State's football violations, which many felt reflected the attitude of the entire university:

"Trustee Jerry Jurgensen observed, 'The cracks here weren't really cracks of rules, procedures, and policies, they were cracks in a value system. I think we have a lot to learn...of what is most important in the game of life....'"

Tony DeFazio, editor of Pittsburgh Sports Report: "It was all there in black and white; on the record, for anyone interested enough to open a newspaper. The lies. The insincerity. The holier-than-thou air of patronizing superiority....

"But if anyone so much as suggested something might be amiss, the school's administration — right on up to the athletic director — scoffed at the notion, painting those who dared to suggest impropriety as ignorant fools...."  (

A little harshness, a lot of truth.

Now Ohio State President Gordon Gee is under fire for making tasteless comments about Catholics, Notre Dame, the University of Louisville, and others. For some reason, those comments were recorded and kept, and then recovered by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.

Gee insulted just about everyone except the Mormons. Oh, wait. Gee is Mormon. Here is a taste of what Gee apparently thought was humor.

  • The top goal of Big Ten presidents (the conference in which Ohio State plays) is to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity," Gee said. "So you won't see us adding Louisville," a member of the Big East conference that, like Notre Dame, is  joining the ACC.

  • "After a pause followed by laughter from the audience, Gee added that the Big Ten wouldn't add the University of Kentucky, either....

Gee apologized in a statement released to the AP. "The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for. They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate."

Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said Gee apologized to Notre Dame President John Jenkins, who accepted the apology.

Big Ten commissioner James Delany distanced himself from the remarks, calling Gee's comments inappropriate and saying they don't represent the opinions of the conference.

Ohio State Board President Robert  Schottenstein  said, "These statements were inappropriate, were not presidential in nature, and do not comport with the core values of the University."

Schottenstein, Delany, and others must have an entire section in their crisis communications plans devoted to Gee alone. In November 2010, Gee boasted that Ohio State's football schedule didn't include teams on par with the Little Sisters of the Poor. Gee later apologized and sent a personal check to the real Little Sisters of the Poor in northwest Ohio.

Last year, Gee compared the problem of coordinating the school's many divisions to the Polish army, which a Polish-American group called a slanderous display of bigotry and ignorance. Gee again apologized.

So how much longer can Ohio State afford to keep Gee around? After all, he earns about $1.9 million annually in base pay, deferred and performance compensation, and retirement benefits.

"Gee has one of the highest-profile résumés of any college president in recent history.... He is a prolific fundraiser and is leading a $2.5 billion campaign at Ohio State. He is omnipresent on campus, attending everything from faculty awards events to dormitory pizza parties."

Boards of directors sometimes face a balancing challenge. How long do you stick with a guy who has outstanding performance based on his job description but is a social and political liability for the organization? Communicators preparing for a crisis under a top person whose mouth is a loose cannon need to be ready with the apologies as well as a statement to explain why his contract wasn't renewed.

That's what Ohio State needs as long as it has a whiz like Gee.

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