COLUMBUS, Ohio – Outraged priests. Furious alumni. Offended Roman Catholics.
All were among dozens of people who wrote angry letters and emails to Ohio State University earlier this year over remarks former president Gordon Gee made jabbing Catholics, Notre Dame and Southeastern Conference schools, records show.
Many demanded his firing or immediate resignation, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.
“The Board should be asking, what would they have done if any other employee of the university made similar remarks about Jews, gays, impaired persons, obese persons, same sex couples or a racially insensitive remark?” Dennis Lyons wrote in a May 31 email. He told the AP in a follow-up email he was satisfied with Gee’s retirement.
In Dec. 5 comments to the university Athletic Council, Gee criticized the negotiating tactics of Notre Dame administrators during discussions about joining the Big Ten, saying they weren’t good partners. He jokingly said the school’s priests were “holy on Sunday and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” and said, to laughter, “you just can’t trust those damn Catholics.”
On March 11, before the remarks became public, university trustees ordered Gee to begin apologizing for the comments and warned that future transgressions could lead to his dismissal.
Gee, 69, retired July 1, a decision he announced just a few days after the AP first reported on the remarks on May 30.
Gee, who was on a Disney cruise when the news broke May 30, saw some of the emails when he returned and responded with further apologies, records show.
“Dr. Gee was on vacation with his family and he returned and indicated he was making the decision to retire,” Ohio State spokeswoman Gayle Saunders said Tuesday, asked for comment on the responses’ impact on Gee’s retirement.
The university search committee was scheduled to hold another meeting Wednesday to discuss Gee’s replacement.
Responses the university received after the news broke fell into two broad categories, according to an AP analysis of a few hundred emails and letters.
Comments from people who heard of the remarks and sent unsolicited responses were overwhelmingly negative, including 187 emails and letters.
The Rev. Thomas Shuler, a Catholic priest in Lookout Mountain, Ga., for example, was among at least five priests who wrote or emailed the university to demand something be done.
“I cannot recall in my lifetime (68 years old) such a blatant public display of ignorance and bigotry by an official – academic and otherwise – the rank and stature of your president,” Shuler said in a May 30 email to university trustees.
Alumnus Jon Spiers said in a May 31 email, “My youngest son dreams of attending OSU. I won’t permit that until there are major reforms in the University’s direction ... that starts with changing leadership.”
The second category of responses involved comments from people who responded to a form letter apology that Gee emailed to the entire university community May 31.
Of those, 225 were positive, with 21 negative, records show.
“C’mon President Gee you were hilarious,” senior-to-be Mike Leone wrote on May 31. “I’m a church going catholic and was roaring when I heard your comments on the radio this morning.”
Leone, 21, of Cleveland, told the AP Tuesday he didn’t feel as if Gee was attacking anyone and was sorry to see him go.