LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The president of one of the biggest universities in the country, Ohio State, has announced his retirement. This comes a week after a recording surfaced of unfortunate comments about Catholics and Southerners. Karen Kasler, of Ohio Public Radio in Columbus, reports.
KAREN KASLER, BYLINE: Gordon Gee isn't your typical college president. The 69-year-old, divorced Mormon is one of the highest paid college presidents in the country, and is thought to have led more universities than any other person in the U.S. With his distinctive, round-rimmed glasses and ever-present bow tie, he's a fixture at Ohio State; the rare administrator who's so well-known, students actually seek out his autograph. He pops up at football games and graduation parties, and even joined a flash mob at the student union. The YouTube video has been seen nearly 5 million times.
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KASLER: And Gee is a prolific fundraiser, having headed campaigns that raised billions of dollars in his two terms as president. He led Ohio State from 1990 to 1997, and he returned in 2007 after stints in charge at Brown and Vanderbilt.
But there's another side to Gordon Gee - the gaffe maker. He's had several high-profile, foot-in-mouth moments in the last few years. The latest was at an OSU athletic council meeting in December, not long after the football Buckeyes finished an undefeated season but could not compete for the national championship because of NCAA violations. A recording of Gee's remarks was obtained just last week by the Associated Press. And on it, Gee is heard talking about negotiating with Notre Dame officials about joining the Big 10 Conference.
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PRESIDENT GORDON GEE: First of all, they're not very good partners, I'll just say that. I negotiated with them during my first term, And the fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week.
GEE: GEE: And you know, you just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or Friday. And so...
KASLER: At that same meeting, Gee also made remarks about the Southeastern Athletic Conference and specifically, the University of Louisville.
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GEE: And, well, you tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out...
KASLER: Those comments brought a harsh rebuke from the coach of the reigning NCAA Division I basketball champs, Rick Pitino, who blasted Gee on WHAS, a commercial radio station in Louisville.
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RICK PITINO: I have a major problem with him - not with Ohio State. I have a major problem with him, and he's a pompous (bleep) for making those statements.
KASLER: Gee has said the remarks were a poor attempt at humor. University trustees called them unacceptable, and put him on what was termed a remediation plan. Students at Ohio State had mixed reactions about Gee's retirement announcement. Alden Jones is a senior in accounting, from Chicago.
ALDEN JONES: It's on everybody's bucket list to have a picture with Gee. So it's a sad note to see him go.
KASLER: Senior Allison Wright, from Cincinnati, is an urban planning major.
ALLISON WRIGHT: I think it's kind of embarrassing to go out on that note.
KASLER: But Gee's work at the five universities he's headed has earned him fans in higher education. Scott Cowen is the president of Tulane University, and chairs the Association of American Universities.
PRESIDENT SCOTT COWEN: Regardless of how this ended, what I would hate to do is to have people lose sight, though, of - you know, how effective he has been for so long as a university president. That would be a shame.
KASLER: Gee's retirement announcement doesn't mention the recent comments, but Gee says he made the decision to step down while on vacation with his family.
For NPR News, I'm Karen Kasler in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.