The timing of WVU’s search for a new president was serendipitous; just as the University was beginning its nationwide hunt for Jim Clements’ replacement, E. Gordon Gee became available… somewhat.
Gee had left the Ohio State presidency after a controversy over his graceless joke about Catholics. He was still teaching at the OSU law school and was about to spend the winter as a visiting scholar at Harvard.
The prospect of serving as interim president at WVU intrigued Gee, as well as University leaders. It would be a homecoming of sorts for Gee, who began his career as a university president in Morgantown in 1981 when he was just 36 years old.
Gee’s return to campus was an immediate hit. His infectious gregariousness and work ethic showed he was not just mailing it in. Meanwhile, the presidential search committee was coming to realize that the most uniquely qualified person for the permanent job was already at Stewart Hall.
And so last Friday, the search committee recommended Gee for the position (16 yes votes, two no votes and two not present) . The Board of Governors approved the hiring of Gee this morning 16-0-1.
Gee is in a unique position to be the leader of the state’s flagship university. He has a lifetime of experience with stints as president at Ohio State (twice), Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt. It’s hard to imagine a situation arising that Gee has not already dealt with elsewhere two or three times.
He is a proven prolific fundraiser, an increasingly important role here as the state budget tightens. Funding for higher education in West Virginia was cut 7.5 percent this year and will likely be cut another 3.75 percent next fiscal year. He raised $1.6 billion at OSU.
But perhaps most importantly, Gee is independent. He doesn’t need the job and he’s not going to use the position as a stepping stone to a more prestigious institution; he’s already been there.
He brings to Stewart Hall a freedom that empowers him to make difficult decisions for the University without being overly concerned about the reaction from some donors who consider meddling in the school’s day-to-day activities a hobby.
As I have written before, along the way Gee may commit a faux pas or two. One of his shortcomings is that his desire to entertain can tempt him to cross the line. It’s worth noting, however, that 99 percent of Gee’s humor is self-deprecating.
As search committee and BOG Chairman Jim Dailey said, “He is truly a perfect fit for this institution.”
E. Gordon Gee, welcome home.