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Maisel: Gee doomed by need for attention

6/4/2013

Colleague Ivan Maisel writes that E. Gordon Gee loved attention, especially when it came to college football, and that desire eventually led to his retirement as Ohio State's president, days after he came under fire for making disparaging remarks about Catholics and several institutions.

No university president has taken a lap around more football press boxes than Gee. He wanted the media to see him. He wanted to chat.

And that should tell you all you need to know to understand why Gee needed to retire Tuesday as the boss at Ohio State. Gee loved attention. Show me a man who wears a bow tie in this day and age and I'll show you a man who wants to be noticed.

Show me a man who considers himself glib and I'll show you a man addicted to the rush of making people laugh. That's what this is about. Gee never delivered a sober statement if he could channel Jay Leno.

To be fair, Gee's sense of humor helped propel him to stand among the top university presidents in the country for more than two decades. Gee has been the boss at West Virginia, Colorado, Ohio State, Brown and Vanderbilt. He performed his duties so well that when Ohio State needed a president in 2007, it asked Gee to come back. How often does that happen with any high-profile job?

Gee was a university president for the people. He got out among the alumni. He got out among the students. That's what made his final slip all the more compelling. Gee may have loved to talk to his constituents, but at some point, he stopped listening.

Had Gee had his ear to the ground, he might have noticed over the last decade that sensitivities have heightened. You can debate whether the death of poking fun at others is a good development or not, but you can't debate the death itself. Ethnic humor has gone to its glory. Ridicule isn't faring too well, either.

Check out the rest of Maisel's column on the soon-to-be former Ohio State president.