Since Vanderbilt tried to rein in its high-flying president after an unflattering investigation by the Wall Street Journal, he is escaping back to Columbus where he has many friends in high places.
The lead in last September's investigative report in the Wall Street Journal read:
At Vanderbilt University, the board is trying to rein in star chancellor E. Gordon Gee, without running him off.
That plan went bust. Less than a year later, the Columbus Dispatch (Kathy Lynn Gray) reports that Dr. Gee (the g is hard, as in game) has accepted the presidency at Ohio State University (state institution, no Form 990), where he was president from 1990 to 1997. He left OSU for Brown University (EIN 05-0258809 Form 990) and then shocked that campus in 2000 by leaving after only two years for a million-dollar paycheck at Vanderbilt (EIN 62-0476822 Form 990).
But to put the salary in perspective, vice-chancellor Harry Jacobson, who heads up Vanderbilt Medical Center, has a $2.3 million compensation package.
Less than a month ago, the Columbus Dispatch claimed that Dr. Gee turned down an offer of nearly a million to return to OSU. It will be awhile before we know whether the pot was sweetened further, but we do know that Dr. Gee's joked at Vanderbilt that this was his first university president job (he has had five altogether) where he earned more than the football coach. USA Today reported last year that Ohio State's football coach Jim Tressel has a package in excess of $2 million and included a copy of the contract.
Obviously, the Wall Street Journal investigation was a factor in Dr. Gee's decision, which he described as a public colonoscopy. The article was mostly about the $6 million renovations that Vanderbilt made to the president's mansion Braeburn, extensive travel and entertainment expenses, and service on outside boards that netted Dr. Gee an additional $400,000 a year. But the public (bless their hearts) focused on the revelation that his wife Constance smoked marijuana in the mansion (she said, for medical reasons). Mrs. Gee, who had received a tenured position at Vanderbilt as part of the original deal, filed for divorce in February of this year, which he did not contest. (Dr. Gee is a Mormon, but Mrs. Gee is not.)
In Columbus, OSU president Karen A. Holbrook announced her decision to retire back in June of 2006. Under her tenure, OSU had greatly increased its profile as a research institution, rising to 24th in federal research expenditures. The search committee for her replacement was headed up by Alex Shumate, who had previously been on the board of trustees when Dr. Gee was there. Another Gee-era trustee back on the board is Leslie H. Wexner, founder of the Limited and a major university contributor. OSU is planning a capital campaign this year, and in his last tour Dr. Gee was responsible for building the $93 million Schottenstein Center (click link with care), $92 million for a new college of business, and $80 million in renovations for Ohio Stadium.
Dan Williamson reports in the Other Paper, a weekly alternative paper, that another Gordon Gee fan is John F. Wolfe, publisher of the Columbus Dispatch.
It's pretty much unheard of for a university president to do a return engagement except as an interim. For Dr. Gee, who is 63, this could be a final victory lap, or it could be another stepping stone. In 1995 he turned down an offer to lead the University of California system and in 1997 he was mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio.