If you watch the national nightly news, you may have heard the recent storm of attention regarding the president of my alma mater, my husband's alma mater, and the university to which my two sons pay tuition. That would be the Ohio State University, and the president would be Gordon Gee. In case you hadn't heard the scuttlebutt, Gordon Gee, in a meeting about the all-holy (at Ohio State) athletics, and potential admission of other teams to the Big Ten conference, gave his opinion about Notre Dame by saying:
AP--"The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week," Gee said to laughter at the Dec. 5 meeting attended by Athletic Director Gene Smith, several other athletic department members, professors and students. "You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that," said Gee, a Mormon.
He also made disparaging comments about another conference and several coaches.
Gee apologized after the transcript of the secretly-recorded meeting went public, saying, "The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for,” he said. “They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate. There is no excuse for this and I am deeply sorry.”
They may not reflect what the university stands for, but I bet they reflect what the university president stands for. You know what they say -- in every joke is a grain of truth.
As an alumna of the university, I am offended by his remark. And as a Catholic, I am offended at his remark. Not because I have any respect for Gordon Gee, quite the opposite -- I don't think he is a good university president, and I think the way he repeatedly conducts himself publicly is embarrassing. I get that athletic teams poke at each other. I get rivalry. But Gee did not say, "You just can’t trust those damn Irish." He said "Catholics," an entire international religion. Imagine him putting another faith in that sentence instead of "Catholics." Yeah, "Muslims," "Jews," even "Pentecostals."
Which leads me to the fact that I took offense to the comments made by many other people that "it was just a joke." I don't think there is such a thing...going back to the grain of truth issue. Bill Donahue from the Catholic League said political correctness has gone too far, implying that we're all a little too thin-skinned. He was not offended. He could be right. I suppose if I was a Catholic University of Michigan grad, I might have found it mildly funny, though I doubt it since it was said by the president of a very large university and one would expect him to be a tad more mature and well-spoken.
I think I would be offended if I was a Notre Dame alum as well. After all -- they can't be trusted. Or maybe Gee was just implying that priests can't be trusted.
Another issue that went public in the days after was the fact that Gee had been invited to be the graduation speaker at a local Catholic high school. The school announced they were considering uninviting him. I ask why would you announce you were "thinking" about uninviting him? Why not just do it? Well, I guess that was the invitation to Gee to withdraw, which he did. The local television media had a great time finding parents of graduating seniors who were very upset that Gee was not going to be speaking -- they were so looking forward to hearing him speak...they just love him so. Each time another parent appeared on the news I wanted to weep -- had they no honor as Catholics? Yes, we forgive, but it didn't appear he needed their forgiveness, they weren't bothered by his comments in the first place. They were in the Bill Donahue camp and I suppose thought the school principal was just being thin-skinned.
The final event in the recent trilogy of events involving Gee was that yesterday the university president announced his retirement effective July 1. I admit that I am really glad. Whether Catholics were offended or not, should have been offended or not, the board of trustees of a secular university clearly did not think it was funny, or even acceptable for their president to poke fun at a religion. I am proud of that decision. I truly hope the university does a complete 180 and hires as their next president someone who can be trusted to not only run the university, but to respect people of all faiths. Maybe they'll even chose a Catholic.