West Virginia University's Board of Governors made a weak selection in choosing E. Gordon Gee as our flagship university's interim president last week.
On paper, Dr. Gee's credentials look good, even impressive, having been WVU's chief executive between 1981 and 1985, as well as serving since then as presidents of such name institutions of higher learning as Brown, Colorado, Vanderbilt and, of late, Ohio State University. Those are heavyweights in academic circles.
On the other hand, the strengths of Gee's high level academic assignments are marred by the weaknesses of his "off-the-cuff" public speaking comments, which leads one to believe that the 69-year-old administrator might be better off retiring instead of being resurrected to assume WVU's Presidency.
In particular, his blatantly overt anti-Catholicism shows not only that he has a lack of knowledge of one major faith group's charitable records, but also is ignorant of the contributions that Catholic higher education has made to this nation. In speaking to the Ohio State University Athletic Club, he was quoted as saying that a Catholic university couldn't join the Big 10 Athletic Conference because "priests can't be trusted." Continuing, he stated, "The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week... You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that." In addition, he also made a stupid remark about the "Little Sisters of the Poor," an old Catholic religious order whose main concerns are helping the poor, disadvantaged, uneducated and jobless.
After the Ohio's newspapers got a hold of these brazen remarks, via a Freedom of Information law suit, Dr. Gee apologized and soon after, resigned the Ohio State University's presidency. Is there any wonder? Indeed, a lot of Catholics live in Ohio and were antagonized and saddened by his "off the cuff" remarks.
Knowledge-wise, a college or university president ought to know enough about the major religions to avoid offending any one of them, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islam, Hindu, etc. After all, aren't their student bodies made up of learners who also practice those faiths, among others.
This Publisher, who holds two degrees from a very fine and highly ranked Catholic university (St. Louis U.), is very thankful for the Jesuit priests - men who dedicated their lives to serving God and educating students in not only the academic disciplines, but also in ethics and Christian studies. In fact, a St. Louis (MO) University professor discovered Vitamin A (winning the Nobel Prize), a Notre Dame professor discovered plastics (during WW II when natural rubber was running thin in America), a Wheeling Jesuit University priest has taught literacy to the poor in McDowell County, among other accomplishments publicly attributed to Catholic educators. In fact, for the students at a Catholic institution of higher learning, the professors, like at Glenville State College, always seem to be available to help and encourage their charges to succeed in both their studies and life, compared with those professors at large state universities.
John Henry Newman, the 19th century English scholar and cleric, wrote in his famous essay, "The Ideal of a University," that higher education was to reflect the world and universe, and not to be exclusive or judgmental.
By Dr. E. Gordon Gee's voiced prejudice against Catholics and Catholic education, he is definitely a poor choice as West Virginia University's Interim President, that is if our state's top higher educational institution wants to maintain its traditional stature as a place where religious freedom is safe, where all church groups are welcome and where religions can be accurately studied, academically, rather than by bias.
Let us, who believe in our nation's principle of religious toleration, hope that Dr. Gee's interim presidency will be a short one.