COLUMBUS, Ohio — Retiring Ohio State University President Gordon Gee, a veteran administrator who casts a large shadow in higher education realms, vowed Friday not to linger and inhibit his successor's work.
"I think that one of the best contributions I can make is to get out of the way," Gee said after meeting with trustees, who lavishly praised his leadership and made no mention of his latest verbal gaffe, made public days before he announced his July 1 retirement.
Gee will likely raise funds for the university and possibly teach but said he is saving some sabbatical time to use when his permanent replacement arrives. The board on Friday approved Provost Joseph Alutto as interim president.
More than a dozen trustees broke from the scheduled agenda Friday to address Gee during his final board meeting as president, leading him to joke that it sounded more like a funeral. They called him a peerless figure in higher education and lauded his passion, accessibility and engagement of everyone in the campus community. Several trustees said they loved him.
"For almost everybody, Ohio State's overwhelming," Trustee Ronald Ratner told Gee. "For you, that scale – the very fact of what makes this university – is not something that overwhelms you. It's something that both nourishes you and that you nourish."
Gee told the board transitioning is tough.
"It's not easy to do what I'm doing," he said. "It's not easy to do what you're doing."
Gee announced his retirement this week, days after The Associated Press first reported remarks he made in jest in December jabbing Roman Catholics, the University of Notre Dame and the academic integrity of Southeastern Conference schools. Gee apologized, calling the comments "a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate."
He said the attention surrounding the remarks was a small part of his retirement decision. Gee, 69, also cited his age, family and other reasons for stepping down.
The board's chairman, Robert Schottenstein, said that the board will negotiate Gee's departure package in the next few weeks and that he anticipates quick agreement.
"This resignation by him has been a very emotional time, and there just hasn't been time to address it yet," he said.
Schottenstein has said Gee was not forced out.
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