When I arrived in Ohio from Indiana a long time ago to work on the Columbus Citizen (now no more than a memory) the second thing I learned was that OSU not only referred to Ohio State University but also Ohio’s Sacrosanct University. That was after I first learned how difficult it would be to fit some sort of pre-made cover over the big picture window facing the street from our most modest rental home.
As a graduate of the University of Illinois, another Big 10 school, I had taken no more then a casual interest in the Illini’s football team. But once I had settled into a creaky chair and desk at the Citizen across from the Statehouse, it became clear that one could no more dismiss the Buckeye gladiators than to whisper, say, the harmful effects of the onset of a killer plague that could wipe out the schedule.
On Saturday football afternoons, the Citizen’s news room was virtually vacated, leaving such out-of-state immigrants as I and a few others to look after things in the event of word over the teletype that WWIII had broken out.
Even Jack Keller, the managing editor could be seen hastening to the door with a briefcase to report in a post-game article on the visiting team’s defense. The paper carried a play-by-play account of the entire game in small print, which the sports writer dutifully repeated in his own story.
In scarlet and gray, Ohio’s Sacrosanct University.
Fast forward to the hysterics, pro and con, over the resignation/firing of OSU President E. Gordon Gee and you might begin to understand my nightmarish moments when the Buckeye bounty hunters were hustling up and down the field in search of another victim.
As I wrote earlier, Gee never decided whether he wanted to be a massive university’s president or a stand-up comedian. The latter role cost him his job. I think people as high up as Gee would have found ways over the years to self-police one’s satirical asides.
Universities are desperately trying to balance budgets for these leaner times, even asking adjunct professors to cut back on their hours for less pay. And whatever Gee’s strengths, appearances do make a difference. In his case, he was paid nearly $2 million a year with a load of perks handsomely piled on. Until he resigned from the Massey Energy Board in 2009 under heavy criticism from environmental groups over Massey’s policy of knocking off mountain tops to find coal, Gee had been paid $2I9,26l a year by the company, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Gee had said his seat on the Massey board gave him a “unique perspective on the problems and opportunities facing the nation’s energy sector”. From whose perspective? Cool.
The reaction to his swan song at the hands of the OSU Board of Trustees spanned the entire spectrum. Plain Dealer columnist Brent Larkin threw a fit in a raging defense of Gee. He accused OSU Board Chairman Robert Schottenstein and Alex Shumate, of being “coldhearted ingrates” for Gee’s leadership and demanded their resignation from the board.
On the other side, there were was hardly a tear shed for Gee. One letter-writer to the Beacon Journal even was dissatisfied that the OSU Board took so long in kicking him out.
Universities today are nothing if they are not big business as well as opportunities for the brass to find sideline sources of personal income . The late Ray Bliss once told me that he had been nagged by a former university president to find a seat for him on a bank board. But there was a limit to Bliss’ patience.
“I told him that I would be happy to intercede in his behalf on one condition,’ Bliss, the iconic Republican chairman, said, expressing his impatience. “I told him he would have to resign as the university president.”
There was no further discussion of the idea.
In Gee’s case, his comedy routine revealed the basic Greek dramatic flaw and as with the flawed Willy Loman, did him in. As for Ohio’s Sacrosanct University, there’s a very good chance it will survive the roar of the crowd.