WVU search panel wants Gee as permanent head

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Two months after taking office on a temporary basis, E. Gordon Gee is poised at age 70 to become West Virginia University’s permanent president.

A presidential search committee, which held an emergency meeting Friday, recommended WVU in effect reverse itself by making Mr. Gee the permanent successor to Jim Clements, who is now president of Clemson University.

The vote by the 20-member panel sets the stage for an as-yet-unscheduled meeting next week of WVU’s board of governors, which could vote to make the appointment official. It also must go before the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission.

The resolution, introduced by staff representative Dixie Martinelli, asks the board to rescind a motion passed in November that stated Mr. Gee would not be a candidate for the permanent post. A university statement says the board instead will be asked “to take all necessary steps to retain” Mr. Gee.

“Gordon Gee is absolutely, hands down the very best person to be at the helm of West Virginia University at this important time and place in our history,” board chairman and chair of the presidential search committee, James W. Dailey II, said in a statement released by WVU late Friday afternoon. “I know we recruited him to serve until a permanent leader was in place and said the interim president would not be a candidate for the permanent presidency, but the search committee had a change of heart.”

The chairman added:

“It is clear Gordon Gee has not been a placeholder president by any means; he has been an extraordinary high-energy leader who is getting things done, moving us forward and clearly has the support of our board, senior university leaders, faculty and staff, students, elected officials, higher education peers and opinion leaders. Countless people have urged us from Day One to keep him.”

Mr. Gee told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in November, when he was named to the temporary post, that he had sought to carry the actual title of president rather than “interim” because “it’s very important to be engaged in decision-making.”

Mr. Gee and his signature bow ties — the newest of which bear WVU’s blue and gold colors — have been visible across campus, on his Twitter feed and in the state Legislature since he took office. His arrival in January brought him full circle to the 33,000-student state land-grant university that gave him his first presidency decades ago.

At age 36, he became WVU’s leader from 1981 to 1985. He was twice the president of Ohio State, from 1990-1997 and again from 2007 until July. He was president of Vanderbilt University from 2000 to 2007, Brown University’s leader from 1998 to 2000 and the University of Colorado’s president from 1985 to 1990.

His latest Ohio State tenure ended abruptly when he announced his retirement from the post amid controversy over remarks that included comments about Catholics. WVU leaders said in naming him to the temporary presidency that the remarks were not enough to disqualify him, and they noted he had apologized.

“I am honored, energized and humbled by the committee’s recommendation today,” said a statement released on behalf of Mr. Gee, who did not attend Friday’s session and was not available for further comment.

“My return to West Virginia has reminded me of the special spirit of this university and the unique role it plays in this state. I am also reminded of the warmth and friendship of the people of West Virginia, which have been demonstrated over the past few months in full measure.”

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG. First Published February 28, 2014 5:42 PM

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