MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Casting his short-term mission as one of pushing progress and “not a caretaker role,” Gordon Gee returned to West Virginia University on Tuesday to discuss his upcoming role as interim president.
The 69-year-old Gee, a veteran administrator with a string of fund-raising successes and a colorful persona that sometimes lands him in controversy, said he expects to start work at WVU by Jan. 6. He first served as the school’s president from 1981 to 1985 before stints at Colorado, Brown, Vanderbilt and most recently Ohio State, where he retired as president in July.
Gee will bridge the gap as the WVU Board of Governors considers a permanent replacement for Jim Clements, who announced in November that he was leaving to become Clemson’s president.
“Being a short-term president, your most important role is to make sure the institutional momentum continues,” said Gee, sporting a flying WV pin and his trademark bowtie. “I’m not coming to an institution that’s broken; I’m coming to an institution that has a tremendous amount of institutional momentum. It has found its place in the world.”
Gee received an honorary degree from WVU while speaking at the 2006 commencement and had returned to Morgantown only once since then.
“Morgantown has changed—wow,” he said. “It’s obviously one of the really vibrant cities, including college towns, in this country. The university has changed and moved and it feels so much more powerful and so much more integrated.”
The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission approved Gee’s interim hire last week, setting his annual salary at $450,000—less than one-third of the compensation package at Ohio State and Vanderbilt. Gee said he’ll engage in several weeks of preparation before taking office around the start of spring semester.
“I told the board I don’t intend on coming in and doing a listening tour for the first three months,” Gee said. “I plan on coming in and continuing the agenda.
“I want to make sure that the state leadership and the citizens of this state understand and value the importance of this institution.”
Board of Governors chairman James Dailey, who presented Gee with a West Virginia hat at the podium, said university leaders were elated to have Gee bookend his career in Morgantown.
“There’s not a person in this room that’s involved in those decisions who isn’t just tickled to death,” Dailey said. “What a career he has had in higher education.”