Remarks of Gordon Gee at The Ohio State Board of Trustees meeting July 12, 2007
(Taken from closed caption transcript prepared by VITAC - Download PDF)
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my very distinct pleasure to introduce the 14th president of The Ohio State University, E. Gordon Gee.
Gosh, the last time I got a standing ovation was when I told the people of Brown I was leaving.
I am so honored to be here, and thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your leadership.
Yesterday I wrote to the Vanderbilt community, and its board, and I said the following: "I am not leaving Vanderbilt. Rather, I am following my heart and returning to a place that I consider home."
So I'm sorry this is an emotional moment for me. So I thank all of you for letting me come home. I really do.
In Luke 15, some of you can remember that New Testament story of the prodigal son. Well, I am that son. I left. I experienced the world. I made my way in a different way and a different time, but this place, this father, this magnificent institution never forgot me, and has now forgiven me and welcomed me home.
So how true today is that great refrain which I so dearly love, and that is, "Time and change will surely show/How firm thy friendship, O-hi-o."
I am honored, I want you to know, and I am sorry, I have two pages here, as a matter of fact, which is always the way that it is when you're trying to do things, but I do have some people to acknowledge.
I want to start with acknowledging the people of Ohio. They have built a great university called The Ohio State University. It is, and I appreciated what the judge [Marbley] had to say.
I came here because I recognized--and of course I've been president of half of the universities in this country, and I can say that--I recognized this is a remarkable institution. It is not just a great institution, it is a remarkable institution, and I think we should celebrate that, and we should celebrate it with all 11 million Ohioans. This is their day. This is my opportunity, but this is their day, and I want you to know that.
I want to thank our chairman. He and I didn't know each other. We had this kabuki dance we went through and he is a wonderful person. I just want to acknowledge that. One of the great pleasures of my life is going to be an opportunity to work with him, as it is with the rest of this board.
Alex Shumate was the chairman of the board when I took my sabbatical and left for Brown, and I can remember walking to John Wolfe's office then crossing the street and telling Alex, and I am amazed that you would actually even recruit me back, Alex. What a blessing he has always been to me.
To our board of trustees, some of whom I know very well, all of whom I will know very well over time, and I appreciate the fact, and I heard what you had to say and I appreciate those words and may they be true, and may I make them true. I will work very hard to make that happen.
I even have a Vanderbilt father here. I'll continue to make sure you pay a very high tuition at Vanderbilt, I can assure you. The search committee, I met with them today, and they--this is a different process and that search committee showed a lot of trust in this process and for that I am grateful.
Citizen recruiters. There are a number of them here but there is no greater captain of the citizen recruiting group than one Jack Kessler. Stand up. Give him a round of applause. He deserves that, okay?
And then to my colleagues, some of whom look slightly older but none who have worn out, and who are doing wonderful things with this institution, and Joe, I really appreciate the leadership you're providing. Let me just say, I am the president-elect of the institution. There is the president of the university. He's doing a great job and make certain that you continue to support him as we go through this transition. I am honored to have an opportunity to work with him, as I am with the other vice presidents.
And Bobby, you haven't changed a bit. It's great. I can't wait to get out on the road with you again. Eighty-eight counties. I can remember when I came here, by the way, that I made this great announcement about the fact that I was going to visit every county every year and I turned to Alex and I said, "How many counties are there?" He said, "Eighty-eight." I came from Colorado, where there were 20. I hadn't realized that.
So anyway, I am grateful for the friends that I have here, and for the senior leadership to the faculty, the staff, the students of Ohio State, whom I meet in wonderful and strange places, whether it be London or Beijing . . .
I am in a hotel in Beijing, China, and I hear this big shout, "O-H!"
That's Ohio. That's Ohio State. That's its spirit.
To our alumni and our friends, I do particularly want to acknowledge my predecessors. It's been 10 years. Brit Kirwan is a great friend of mine and remains a great friend of mine. He did a wonderful job at this institution and I hope we continue to acknowledge that great work. He certainly takes great pride in his achievements, as does Karen Holbrook. I did not know Karen Holbrook as well, but I got to know her and admire her, and I know that she has done remarkable things and in this time, and in this effort, it is important for us to know that. So I appreciate that.
Obviously I must have left something upstairs, but I will continue here.
I want to make certain that we acknowledge that, and then I want to acknowledge the folks at Vanderbilt. This is a wonderful university. They embraced me. Seven years I spent at that institution, and I hope that they hear me today, that I love and admire the people of that institution. As I said, I am not leaving Vanderbilt; I'm coming to Ohio State.
Martha Ingram, the chairman of that board, is an angel. She's been my angel for all that time and given the university $550 million, which is, I might note, the largest single donation of any individual in this country. I hope to eclipse that at Ohio State, I want to you know.
And to the board of trustees and my senior colleagues and the faculty and staff and students, it has been a love affair for me, but I am home, and I'm grateful for that, but I do acknowledge them.
I want to now acknowledge two people who are so central to my life. First of all I want to introduce my, who just came back in, my daughter, Rebekah. Rebekah, stand up for just a second. Rebekah was 14 years old, and she did not want to move from Colorado. In fact, I still remember this. I had to give her a root canal on the day we came. Literally, we gave her a root canal to tone her down a little bit. But she came, and she fell in love with this place. Rebekah Gee today, whenever she signs where she's from, she says, "I'm from Ohio," and that is who she is.
Rebekah has gone on to do wonderful things. She went to Columbia. She went to Cornell Medical School. Rebekah went to Harvard to do her residency and met her wonderful husband who I'll introduce in a second there, and Rebekah is now a Robert Wood Johnson clinical scholar at University of Pennsylvania. She's making the tour of the Ivy League, and will continue to do that.
Dr. Alan Moore, her husband: Alan is a graduate of the University of Virginia, then a graduate of the Vanderbilt University Medical School. One of the two of them has a great degree, and the two of them met at Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard University, and he is a fellow in endocrinology there.
They are fabulous, young people. They are the future of this country. I am proud that I am her father, and his father-in-law, but they are great young people and you're going to love them as much as I do. I'm glad they're here to celebrate with me.
And so the question is, why am I here?
Why am I here?
I want you to know, and what I said before, I am returning to be part of one of the most exciting, and let me just say this--I want to underscore this; I want everyone to hear this--I am returning to be part of the most exciting, academic environments in American higher education.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Ohio State's time.
This university since 1990 has moved from good to excellent. So thanks to the good work and great leadership from the deans and from the vice presidents and certainly from the presidents themselves, I believe that due to wise decisions and thoughtful Academic Plan, that this university is now poised--and, Joe, you and I will talk a lot about this--we're poised to move from excellence to eminence.
Let me say that again--and Judge, I think that's where we are. We are poised to move from excellence to eminence, and that is an aspiration very few institutions in this country can ever have, and we are there. And I am glad that I can be a part of that.
This is the most comprehensive, complex university in this country, and therefore, we should be a beacon on the hill, for all of higher education. We have the opportunity to set a standard for excellence and set a standard for leadership and a standard for direction that few universities in this country can and will have, and we will do it right here.
I also want you to know I am returning as a different and more mature, I hope, and more thoughtful academic leader.
This is a much different university than I left in 1997, and I'm a much different person. This is not "back to the future." This is not Halloween II, either. And I do not intend on being the Grover Cleveland of university presidents, but, but I have had the opportunity to lead and learn from two of the most highly respected and academically distinguished universities in this country, Brown and Vanderbilt. As a result, and I hope will you see this in me, I have developed a clarity of purpose and an ability to understand, identify, sustain, and create excellence. Hold me to that standard. Expect that of me. Make certain that I say what I am and what I will do, and that is the maturing process.
I want you to understand, even though it's a great joy for me to be here, and it's a great honor, this is a different place, and I am a different person, and I hope that those two will come together again in a wonderful event. And I'm also returning at a time in which the people of Ohio, and, by the way, I feel this, this is one of the great recruiting moments for me, when the state legislature passed unanimously--Madam Speaker, it didn't happen in our time, did it?--when they passed unanimously a state budget and in that budget they said, "We are going to support higher education; this is our number one priority."
Why not? It should be. It's about time.
But also it's a great recruiting opportunity for me, I can assure you, and the people of this state are demanding leadership of their university, and I believe that we have now the tools and ability financially and politically to make that happen.
Our governor, whom I know, is doing a terrific job, and I just wanted to acknowledge him. The president and the speaker of the house and [president of] the senate, I do not know them as well, but I will get to them know them, I assure you. Most importantly, they showed commitment and leadership--unprecedented leadership and commitment--and we should be grateful to them.
Chancellor Fingerhut, I knew him in his senatorial days. I've had opportunity to speak to him at length about the future of higher education, a magnificent voice for quality and excellence, a person who will make the difference to this university and difference to the state.
Of course, I want to say this. This is a larger board, this is a different kind of board than I worked with. This is a reorganized, revitalized, reconfigured, and I think a perfectly logical way to now run a university, and I am delighted that I can be here, be part of that. This trustee reorganization is important.
So I clearly believe that a confluence of common sense and commonweal is occurring, recognizing that one cannot have a vital and progressive state, and let me say this again, one cannot have a vital and progressive state without the leadership of a great university. It is impossible.
But at the same time, this university must recognize that we have an essential and incredibly significant stake in the future of this state. We are wed. We are The Ohio State University, and a great state and a great university can make a difference, but only together and only if we work together.
Perhaps the most compelling reason I am here, I can now sleep at night.
I have spent 10 years, not in the wilderness, because I love those institutions, but I woke up every morning, I said why am I here? A private institution has a particular role to play, but 80 percent of the students in this country are educated in our public universities. They are the front door to the American dream. They represent what life is about. They represent what this nation is about, and I have returned to the great opportunity that exists. I believe, I believe in every fiber of my being, in the public university, in the land-grant mission of this public university.
You know, Ohio State is unique. There are very few institutions in this country that are both land-grant institution and the state's leading institution. What an opportunity for me, and what an opportunity for us, but I am going to be able to sleep at night, because I will never ask again that question of why do I exist and what am I doing, why am I doing what I'm doing?
Of course, there are challenges. There are many, but the fundamental challenge--and I'm going to spend a second on this and then turn myself over for questions--the fundamental challenges center around people and ideas. You'd expect me to say money and a variety of other things. That will come. Open your wallets, I'm here. No wallet is safe in this state. But that will come. We will make that happen.
But the fundamental challenge, I believe, centers around people and ideas. We must capture the hearts and minds of the people of Ohio to believe in the fiber that they have in their being that this university will make a difference in their lives, and then, and then we must do so.
At the same time, we must convince the people of this university, this wonderful university, this great, magnificent institution, the faculty, the staff and the students, that this university is not a job. It is not a job. It is a calling. It is a responsibility. It's a remarkable opportunity each and every one of us has.
We have that opportunity at this time in this institution in ways that very few people do. So we must create a climate of dignity and respect for each and every one. We must not be pugilistic with each other. We must celebrate our differences and we must make sure in celebrating that we understand the value of this great university. We must engage and win the battle of talent. It's all about talent. We don't make cars, Joe. We don't make widgets. It's all about talent. The most talented faculty teaching the most talented students.
We will win that. I'm predatory. We will win that.
But it is going to require a lot of hard work. That's what it is about. It is bright, wonderful faculty engaged in libraries and in their laboratories, about the world, that they are engaged in, and it's about them engaging those wonderful, bright students.
We will win that battle for talent. And the corollary is that we must win the battle of ideas. You can't run an empty vessel. There can't be a great university unless we are a place of great ideas and those ideas are found in our laboratories.
This institution has marched in a truly distinguished way. It's made a dash for distinction by creating an environment in which research is celebrated and which gives opportunities for people to make a difference in terms of what their research does in the lives of people around the world. We are a magnificent research university, but we also recognize and encourage a whole level of creativity that few institutions can and will do, and I think that that is Ohio State.
Let's not think "we are the largest university in the country." When I used to talk about the fact this was an aircraft carrier and I'd moved to a speedboat—and let me tell you speedboats can be dangerous. But we must not think of size as an impediment, but as an opportunity. Size is not an impediment at this institution. We are the most massive intellectual platform in America, gathered on one campus.
We will only be that if we can think and act and operationalize ourselves as one university. We can't be 18 colleges connected by a heating plant. We can't be a series of departments connected by telephone lines. We have to act—and you're going to hear this theme from me a lot--we have to be one university.
If we are this massive institution and we can think with agility and act with simplicity, even in our complexity, we are going to be enormously successful. And no one else is doing that.
No one else is doing that. No one else is doing that in this country. We will, and we can, and I am so bound up in that, in that notion, and I am thrilled that I believe we have that opportunity, and we must remember that we're about creating ideas.
We must be equally passionate about passing along those ideas. If we create ideas, if we have this great research mechanism, and then we just have it narrowly defined in those laboratories or in those libraries, then we have done ourselves very little good and maybe even some harm. Therefore, we must pass along those ideas. We must be a student-centered university. Teaching and learning is our mission, and we must make that happen.
And so those whom we teach, and those who teach and learn here, must also reflect the diversity racially and economically and socially and culturally that allows difference to flourish, that allows us to celebrate those differences in ways that will truly make us better.
So Mr. Chairman, members of the board, ladies and gentlemen here on this mid-summer evening, as we celebrate a great university, these are just a few of my thoughts.
I had many today, but I wanted to limit my time.
This is the one thing I want to say to each of you that I believe absolutely: This is the university of the American dream. This is the university of the American dream.
I can remember still one time when I conducted commencement I just happened to ask here of all of these people gathered having a great time, I said, "Would all those who are first generation students stand up?" Over half of those students graduating.
This is the American dream.
I'm a product of that. I grew up in a very small town--Vernal, Utah. Without a great public university, I would not be here today.
This is the American dream, the front door to the future, and today, I stand before you because you have fulfilled my dream, so I thank you very much.
Q: Knowing you, you're going to do everything first, but when you hit the ground running, here at The Ohio State University, what is your first priority?
A: Well, my first priority is, and I don't want to sound so simple, but the fact is that we've got a president here. He and I are going to caucus on Saturday and devise a transition plan and execute that. I have to build some of my own team, figure out the structure of the institution. I have to think about how we operationalize some of the things that I talked about right now, but that will be my first priority and obviously sometime or other I need to move here, Carol, but I'll make that happen.
Q: Just a follow-up. What have you seen on campus since you've been here this time that has changed the most?
A: Well, I mean, I told the search committee today, someone asked me sort of the same question, what is it about the university that is different from when you were here in ‘97? I think a couple of things. First of all, the quality of the students is extraordinary at the undergraduate level. I operationalized the selective admissions process. Right before I came here, Ohio State was an open admission institution, and so when I came, we raised the admission standards, did a variety of other things, but it was a long operational issue. Now, this is an institution, enormously competitive. We are now in that very difficult position, because access, affordability, quality are all parts of the mission of the university of having to convince the mothers and fathers of sons and daughters in Ohio that it's a great honor to have been rejected from Ohio State, and we need to figure that out, but nonetheless, the quality of the students, and then the massive investment in faculty, which has resulted in this incredible research engine, which we now see. We have to continue to invest in that and need to make certain we are a three-legged stool in which all three legs are long--undergraduate, graduate and professional education.
Many of our faculty agree we have to invest more heavily in graduate students, bring them up to the quality of the rest of our efforts but we are in a great position now.
Boy, I intimidated everyone.
Any other questions?
Q: I'm with the Associated Press. Could you explain to us what changed from a couple of weeks ago, when you denied that you were a candidate for the job, and said that you were going to stay at Vanderbilt, and now here you are today. Was it a question of money? Was it a question of benefits? What changed in these few days?
A: Well, you know, as you know, I am--I was, until a few minutes ago, the most highly paid university president in the country, and life has come back into imbalance. I no longer make as much money as the football coach, so I am, I feel much more sanguine about that, but the issue for me was a very simple one. That is what I said, it's as simple and as complex, and that is that I turned down the job because I felt that I had a duty and responsibility at Vanderbilt, but also that I was not prepared to really take this position, because I just didn't really know enough.
Since that time, the tenacity of some of the people in this room in terms of recruiting gave me opportunity to understand the institution a bit more, and then I--this is sort of spiritual to me--I came last Sunday, on my own. My assistant couldn't believe I could buy an airplane ticket. I did. I came on my own visited the campus and walked the place.
What I said at the beginning was what I felt then, I was home and I knew that I needed to come and I made the decision right then. It was my moment, and so it was nothing about Vanderbilt. It was nothing about money, or issues, or any problems of push and pull. It was simply that my heart told me what to do and that's what I did.
Q: Dr. Gee, if you could just explain a little more what you just said right there about having left, coming back last weekend, walking around campus, what you saw that you said "By golly, this is different" and what stirred up old ghosts for you.
A: Let me just point, let me just talk about my daughter for a second, if I can, to use, which is really very much instrumental in this. She was a great advocate for me to return, by the way, I might just say. When we came, she was 14. Her mother, my dear wife, Elizabeth, died here. We were embraced as no two people could be embraced by a university community and by people of the state, at a time in which we needed that, and she and I became fast friends. We are as close as two people can possibly be today, and all of that just stirred up in me, and it was that moment for me, and that's just the way that I feel.
I hope that--you know, I think sometimes people who run these massive universities and so forth, you expect them to say, well, you know, there was a little bit more research here and a little bit more student productivity there and the buildings are a little bit bigger and so forth. This was a pure and simple spiritual decision for me and it was the right decision.
Q: Did you get to see the south campus area?
A: I certainly did see the south campus area and I thank you very much for noting that, because when I came here, Jack Kessler, who was the chairman of the search committee, would drive me in off Olentangy, and the first time I came I drove myself, I thought uh-oh, someone has given me a false impression of this place, because I needed a Humvee, but now it's a magnificent addition. This university, this university, and I take great pride in having established Campus Partners. But now what we are, we have a partnership with the community.
We sucked the life, the oxygen out of community. We had not given back. We allowed these shotgun places to grow up in which people were living, and our students were not living in the best conditions.
We have changed that culturally. It is wonderful to see what is happening and the connection between Vanderbilt and down High Street--Vanderbilt? You understand I have said that for several years--between Ohio State and downtown, we are creating a great corridor.
So yeah, there's been so much that has changed and so much positive, and I saw that, too.
Q: From WBNS in Columbus. You mentioned you were coming home. Should the students and the other members of this university read that this is, in fact, the last stop on your illustrious career?
A: You know something, I hold the world's record for the number of universities I've held. I've probably said three times "This is it." This time it really is it.
I tell you what, everyone hold this out, hold up a big sign and I will sign it somewhere, "This is it," okay?
This is it, and the reason this is it is the way that I made the decision. Let me just say that, the reason this is it is the way that I made the decision. I made the decision based upon a very jealous moment, which is what is right for me, and I hope it's also right for the university, so this is it.
This is it.
Q: I'm from WBNS-TV.
A: Hi,Lindsay. How are you?
Q: Good. Rarely do you ever get to revisit a chapter in your career and say you want it to do it better. What would you do better this time around? Thank you.
A: A couple of things I just mentioned, when I was here the last time, I was 46 years of age, and coming to The Ohio State University is an overwhelming proposition. I had been university president for 10 years and it nearly overwhelmed me. I did a lot of on-the-job learning. I will do that now, but I am prepared for that, and I'm prepared to in a more mature way, I think, to deal with the immediate issues of the institution. So I think lightening the learning curve and increasing the intensity of what I believe is a sterling academic profile, and sterling Academic Plan is what I would do differently. It took me a long time to kind of get moving the last time I was here.
Q: Gil Price, Call & Post. You mentioned when you came the first time that you had established selective admissions from an open admissions policy. One of the issues that of course has changed since the last time you were here has been the Supreme Court's rulings in a couple of cases reflecting diversity, especially in the Michigan cases. Do you see attempting to, this tension between excellence and diversity, how do you see the changes affecting the way you operate now, or the way this university operates in terms of promoting diversity now?
A: Gosh, you haven't changed at all. That was the question you asked me the last time almost, as a matter of fact. I want to be on the record about this. I think this is a false dichotomy. There's no tension between excellence and diversity. In fact, I submit to you that excellence and diversity are absolute partners.
We live in a global world. There are so many different languages being spoken. We need to have an opportunity for people who look and think and act differently to be part of this university family, and if we don't, then we're diminished. One of the challenges we face, 85 percent of our students are Ohioans. How do we get a different cultural take, and we can only do that by diversifying, racially, socially, culturally, economically, to make certain that every one of us are enabled and empowered to ask different kinds of questions and be challenged by those.
I want to be clear about that. I think if one thinks about a university that way, then it is not about making choices, it's about having an opportunity to make that difference and that's exactly what we're going to do.
Is there one last question?
Q: Dr. Gee, I first apologize for my attire. I came straight from the university, I'm a senior.
Q: I was excited to see the press conference here, and again I want to apologize for my appearance. I'm not trying to have any impropriety here. I wanted to ask you, we've heard so much about your ability to connect with students, and to really bring the faculty and the students together, and from my perceptions, students I've spoken with over at my years at the university, there's been a growing rift between the two bodies. I'm interested in how you plan to address that practically, and so forth going forth from here.
A: I love students. You'll be tired of seeing me after awhile. Look, there should be a rift, and there's sometimes this natural kind of notion that the administrators sit here and the students sit there. And even the rift among, between the administration and the faculty. I think we don't accept that. I believe they're all colleagues.
Personally, one of the things I love doing, even though I'm 63 years of age now, I love to go to student parties. You invite me and I'll be over your place. That'll scare you. In fact, I'm expecting you. Tell me your name, I'm over there.
No, the point is that we can make a very large university very small by the actions that we take, and I can assure you that the president and I are going to take every possible action to make certain that this institution connects very precisely with the students. That's what we're about and what I love and it's a great opportunity for me to come back and have 60,000 of you to be my friends, and you will be, and I will make that happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for letting me be here. I really appreciate it.