Ohio State president Gordon Gee – soon to be past president – created a stir when he called Bret Bielema a thug, joked that that "damn Catholics" at Notre Dame couldn't be trusted, and pondered the reading skills of students at SEC schools. This wasn't the first time Gee had to backtrack on remarks. In 2010 he commented on Ohio State's not scheduling "the Little Sisters of the Poor," which, of course, soon had him apologizing to the actual Little Sisters of the Poor.
Now Gee is on his way out the door.
The easy lesson is the university officials need to be more cognizant that they're working in a very sensitive environment where off-color jokes are going to be blown out of proportion. But this is their arena. They chose to be academics. Focusing on whether or not the comments are offensive, and whether someone needs to be apologizing to someone else, misses the point. Luckily, a professor at Ohio State, just wrote about this.
Steven Conn teaches American cultural and intellectual history at OSU, so it's appropriate that he dove into the cultural aspect of Gee being forced out by the university's Board of Trustees.
He wrote about the multiple scandals that have occurred in the past year – Rutgers, Penn State, etc… – and how the common theme is big time athletics. "Increasingly," he wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, university presidents are "forced to defend, apologize, and post bail for their out-of-control athletic departments. Big Time college athletics is the tail that wags the university dog, and it wags university presidents right along with it."
Focusing on athletics rather than the university mission has become common. "And when university presidents have to spend their time fretting over NCAA investigations, negotiating the expansion of conferences and their TV contracts, and answering endless questions about this year’s bowl chances and next year’s recruiting class, they necessarily spend less time on the real work that universities ought to do."
More people ought to be reading Steven Conn and others who are discussing the real issues. The entire article can be found here.