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WVU President E. Gordon Gee Has Walked in Bob Huggins’ Controversial Shoes



Gordon Gee

A decision looms on what to do with West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins after he used an anti gay-slur about Catholic fans of Xavier. Between the admiration that fans of the program have for Huggins and the extreme insensitivity of his remarks, the decision to suspend, fine or fire Huggins will likely fall to the highest people at West Virginia.

And the highest of all at West Virginia, President E. Gordon Gee, has experience being in Huggins’ situation on multiple occasions. In fact, if it wasn’t for Gee making his own insensitive remarks directed at Catholics multiple times, he likely wouldn’t be at West Virginia to decide on the fate of Huggins.

Prior to West Virginia, Gee was president at Ohio State from 2007-13 in his second of two stints at the university. His seven years there were marked with controversy, even though he was named the 10th best university president in the county at one point during his tenure.

His first controversial comment came in 2010 when he criticized the level of competition football programs at Boise State and TCU were playing. He referred to their opponents as “Little Sisters of the Poor,” a well-known Catholic organization that has been in operation since 1868.

Gee later took a visit to the organization and claimed that he didn’t known they existed while he was making the comments.

Just a year later in 2011, Gee would make comments comparing the difficulty of running Ohio State with commanding the Polish Army. He implied instability and confusion among the Polish army, saying, “When we had these 18 colleges all kind of floating around, they were kind of like PT Boats, they were shooting each other. It was kind of like the Polish army or something. I have no idea what it was.”

The comments led to outcry by Polish American groups and an apology by Gee. However, it was his third incident that would lead to the end of his tenure at Ohio State.

Speaking to a university committee about why Notre Dame wouldn’t be invited to the Big Ten, Gee said, “Those damn Catholics can’t be trusted. The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week. You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”

That meeting happened in December of 2012, marking three straight years of controversial remarks. It took six months for the comments to reach the public forcing Gee to, again, apologize.

Eventually, the full transcript of that meeting was released and revealed that he also insulted SEC schools and Louisville by saying once they learned to read and write they can think about college expansion.

Approximately a month later, Gee announced his retirement from Ohio State. He’d spend a few months running an Ohio State-based think tank before becoming interim president at West Virginia in December of 2013 and later the school’s 24th president in 2014.

Of course, this is Gee’s second-term as the school’s president, having served as the 19th president from 1981-85.

Again, similar to Huggins who had an infamous run-in with the law to end his Cincinnati tenure, making insensitive public remarks is not the only controversy to strike Gee.

Gee’s usage of funds, particularly at Ohio State and Brown, were both criticized in the press. His tenure at Brown ended up so controversial that the school still has a section of porta-jons during their spring weekend labeled “E. Gordon Gee Lavatory Complex.”

It’s worth revisiting these controversies now as Gee will have major say in what happens with Huggins. However, there are some key differences between the two.

The use of an anti-gay slur that shouldn’t be repeated, even though Huggins said it twice, is the major difference. The outrage directed at Huggins isn’t primarily over an attack on Catholics or Xavier, but using an anti-gay slur.

Another is that the comments that Gee made prior to him retiring from Ohio State was in a private meeting and weren’t released until months later. Huggins made his comments directly to the public on a radio show.

It’s not really a controversial opinion to point out that what Huggins said, and the medium he chose to say it is much worse. It wasn’t comments to a private group of university officials that got leaked and, unlike Gee, included a horrible anti-gay slur.

Still, it’s hard to imagine Gee’s own past not factoring into the decision that the school makes on Huggins. Gee’s opinion will be heard during this process, and whether his past will lead to more sympathy for the head coach or not, will likely be seen in the decision the school makes.

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