Characters not always acceptable

We know E. Gordon Gee and Ohio State University are saying the university president is retiring to spend time with family, but that doesn’t mean we cannot comment about recent events.

Gee is colorful for a major university president. He is well known and respected as an academic administrator and leader, but he also is well known for gaffes.

It’s sad that his retirement comes after the revelation about anti-Catholic and anti-Southeast Conference comments made to an OSU athletic group toward the end of 2012, because he has done much more good than the negative results of the comments, which were, we’re sure, a bad attempt at humor.

And we’re sure of that because it’s not the first time Gee has stuck his toe between his teeth in an attempt at making humor out of the sometimes tense world of being the president of one of the largest universities in the nation.

He once made a comment about the Polish Army when likening it to the work it takes to keeping the university’s many departments working together. And, most famously, he attempted to inject humor into the situation involving football coach Jim Tressel when it came to light that Tressel had not been forthcoming about what he knew regarding NCAA violations involving his players.

His attempts at humor come from another era, a different time, when every word wasn’t parsed on a 24-hour news cycle and folks didn’t seem to function solely by waiting to perform a “gotcha!” on others.

He was dogged by those who said he spent too much during his tenure at Brown and that he tried to change the university’s direction. He raised $1.25 billion at Vanderbilt but drew fire for eliminating athletics.

Still, his dedication to the cause of higher education kept him in demand.

He was among those last year launching a higher-education initiative to make sure those who start college complete their degree. He was president at Brown, Colorado, West Virginia and chancellor at Vanderbilt in addition to two rounds at Ohio State coming nearly a decade apart. As a young man, he was a clerk for Justice Warren Berger.

He was visible to students on campus, attending everything from high administrative functions to dorm pizza parties. He did his job well enough that Time named him the best college president as recently as 2010.

However, he also earned more than a million dollars a year for years, not just at Ohio State.

For that, a little less visible “character” apparently was needed, despite his being loved by students and his enthusiasm for higher education being a good contagion.

Even Gee’s retirement including a comment that he still has a few weeks left “to wreck the university.”

It’s just his character to make the wrong one-liner at the wrong time. And characters are, sadly, not acceptable nowadays.