No one can argue that outgoing Ohio State President Gordon Gee isn’t one of the key reasons the university has grown to become one of the premier institutions of learning in this country. But one of the worst things that can happen to any rock star is the moment he realizes that he’s a rock star.
No one can argue that outgoing Ohio State President Gordon Gee isn’t one of the key reasons the university has grown to become one of the premier institutions of learning in this country.
The 69-year-old widower has devoted much of his life to raising awareness, standards and money for Ohio State.
Pardon me — THE Ohio State University.
But one of the worst things that can happen to any rock star is the moment he realizes that he’s a rock star (See: Bieber, Justin). Ohioans who didn’t even attend Ohio State can identify Gordon Gee easier than they can their state representative.
However, when a rock star starts taking his boy-genius press clippings seriously, it’s only a matter of time before fate begs to differ.
HA HA ... AHEM
Gee’s recent announcement that he will retire on July 1 came upon the heels of some blowback over insultingly sour jokes he made about Catholics and competing schools’ academics.
It wasn’t the first time Gee has made politically incorrect wisecracks — just the first time university officials ginned up enough nerve to call him on it. For years, Gee parlayed his charisma and star power into a tsunami of cash for a school whose operating budget tops those of many cities.
Gee has been gently chided before about his, ahem, humor, but hasn’t had to account for it until now because his fundraising prowess is second to none. A recording made last year captures people laughing at Gee’s “damn Catholics” jokes — which is, of course, what enablers do.
So even though Gee may have made some supporters cringe and avert their eyes now and again, the people charged with keeping on the lights decided that a little political incorrectness was worth the risk for those big, fat checks.
As a university president, Gee is surrounded by 50,000 twenty-somethings, yet he embraces a “Mad Men” sensibility, one that doesn’t seem to get why others might take offense at their religion being made fun of and jokes involving sexism, racism and other assorted isms that have us in a perpetual state of angst these days.
It’s difficult for any public figure to traverse the increasingly complicated labyrinth of social rules to avoid offense. For some, it still hasn’t sunk in that social media now have the power to litter the road with bodies and pull down kingdoms, that whatever you say to someone else could be used against you by everyone else.
There are moments when you know you’re in the slipstream of change. Other times, you hardly feel the ground shift beneath your feet until it’s too late. Blinded by the spotlight, Gee couldn’t see the hazard ahead.