Goodbye Gordon Gee

According to the Columbus Dispatch and other news reports, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee has announced that he is retiring, effective July 1.

Gee’s retirement comes on the heels of some ill-advised comments about Catholics that were intended as humor but struck many people as disparaging.  Gee insists that he is not retiring because of the comments, but rather because of his age and the University’s need for long-term planning.  Whatever the real reason might be, it’s clear that Gee’s jibes about Catholics — and some of the other curious comments he has made in recent years — have not been well-received by some members of the University community.  His most recent remarks were criticized by the President of the Board of Trustees and he was put on a remediation plan that sought to change his behavior.

Gee, 69, served twice as the University’s President.  My guess is that most people believe that — gaffes notwithstanding — he has left the University stronger and better positioned than it was when he first took office.  He has been a tireless fundraiser, and with his bow tie and constant public appearances he became something of a celebrity.  Speaking as an OSU alum, I wish President Gee well, but I’m also interested in seeing who will be hired to replace him and whether they might take a different approach to what is a very big job.  In Ohio, the President of The Ohio State University can and should be a very significant and influential figure in the statewide community, and it will be a huge challenge to find and hire the right person for a very important position.

Coach Tressel, E-Mails, And NCAA Violations

Tonight’s disclosure about Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is disappointing news, indeed, for Ohio State fans.  Tressel failed to promptly report information about potential NCAA violations to institutional officials.  As a result, Ohio State has self-reported an NCAA violation, has suspended Coach Tressel for two games, has fined him $250,000, and will issue a public reprimand and require Coach Tressel to make a public apology.  The NCAA, of course, may impose additional sanctions or require additional actions.

I’ve read the Ohio State letter self-reporting the violations and listened to parts of tonight’s press conference about the matter, in which OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith, Coach Tressel, and OSU President E. Gordon Gee spoke.  I have some questions about what happened, but I’d prefer to reserve judgment until more information comes out.  I think a big part of the puzzle will be the e-mails between Coach Tressel and the attorney who advised Tressel of the potential NCAA violations — and who apparently requested confidentiality because the information was obtained in the context of a federal drug trafficking investigation.  How were the e-mails phrased?  Did their contents reasonably suggest that Coach Tressel should be concerned about the safety of the unnamed players who allegedly were involved?

Sometimes I think we expect public figures — and in Ohio, the head football coach at Ohio State obviously is a public figure — to make snap judgments that stand up to the most rigorous 20-20 hindsight examination.  In life, it rarely works out that way.  For all of Ohio State’s focus on NCAA rules compliance, I doubt that Coach Tressel or anyone else has received training on what to do if they receive an email from an attorney reporting on potential rules violation information obtained during a federal criminal investigation, when the attorney requests strict confidentiality.  Let’s at least wait until more information becomes available before we reach ultimate conclusions on the propriety of Coach Tressel’s conduct.

Les Wexner And Columbus

It was a lucky day for central Ohio when Leslie Wexner was born.

Wexner graduated from The Ohio State University, started The Limited Stores in central Ohio and saw them grow into a huge retail conglomerate, and has never forgotten his central Ohio roots.  Earlier this week Wexner, his wife Abigail, and The Limited Foundation gave a $100 million gift to Ohio State.  That gift, which Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee aptly characterized as transformative, is just the latest example of Wexner’s profound impact on central Ohio, its citizens, and its business community.

It is hard to imagine what central Ohio would be like without Les Wexner.  His philanthropic efforts are legendary.  At Ohio State, he has contributed millions toward the construction of the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Les Wexner Football Complex at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.  The latest gift will benefit the Wexner Center for the Arts and various entities within the OSU hospitals.  Other local beneficiaries of Wexner’s generosity include Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Wexner Heritage Village — among many, many others.

As impressive as Wexner’s charitable activities have been, however, he has had an even more profound impact on central Ohio as a capitalist.  The Limited and its various affiliates, subsidiaries, and spin-offs have employed thousands of central Ohioans and brought many new, creative people to our community; those businesses and the taxes paid by their employees have contributed millions toward the coffers of local governments throughout the area.  The Easton Town Center, which Wexner developed, is one of the premier mixed-use shopping areas in the nation and attracts many out-of-towners to our fair city.  And the house where Kish and I live wouldn’t be here but for Wexner and his decision to launch a new suburb in New Albany, a formerly sleepy farming community in the far northeast corner of Franklin County.

People may disagree with Les Wexner’s views about how Columbus or Ohio State should address certain issues.  No one can dispute, however, that Wexner’s generosity and business skills have had an enormous impact in shaping the Columbus in which we now live.