Responses, many angry, flood Ohio State after former president's remarks jabbing Catholics

  • Article by: ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS , AP Legal Affairs Writer
  • Updated: July 31, 2013 - 6:30 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Joseph Nally was disappointed on three fronts by disparaging remarks made by Ohio State University's former president — as a Roman Catholic, a graduate of Ohio State and a Notre Dame grad.

"Your President's recent remarks were disappointing — and unacceptable," Nally, a Cleveland doctor, wrote in a scathing letter to Ohio State's trustee chairman on June 3.

In December comments first revealed in May by The Associated Press, ex-President Gordon Gee jabbed Roman Catholics, the University of Notre Dame and Southeastern Conference schools, among others.

Nally, a kidney disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic who graduated from Notre Dame in 1972 and from Ohio State's medical school in 1975, said in a phone interview Wednesday that Gee's comments "really tainted the university."

The university was flooded with angry emails and letters after Gee's remarks, many demanding his firing or resignation, according to documents obtained by the AP through an open records request.

"The Board should be asking, what would they have done if any other employee of the university made similar remarks about Jews, gays, impaired persons, obese persons, same sex couples or a racially insensitive remark?" Dennis Lyons wrote in a May 31 email.

Lyons, who has no connection to Ohio State, told the AP in a follow-up email he was satisfied with Gee's retirement.

In Dec. 5 comments to the university Athletic Council, Gee criticized the negotiating tactics of Notre Dame administrators during discussions about joining the Big Ten, saying they weren't good partners. He jokingly said the school's priests were "holy on Sunday and they're holy hell on the rest of the week" and said, to laughter, "you just can't trust those damn Catholics."

On March 11, before the remarks became public, university trustees ordered Gee to begin apologizing and warned that future transgressions could lead to his dismissal.

Gee, 69, retired July 1, a decision he announced days after the AP first reported on the remarks.

"Dr. Gee was on vacation with his family and he returned and indicated he was making the decision to retire," Ohio State spokeswoman Gayle Saunders said Tuesday when asked for comment on the responses' impact on Gee's retirement.

Gee saw some of the emails when he returned and responded with further apologies, records show.

The university search committee held another meeting Wednesday to discuss Gee's replacement. A decision isn't expected for weeks or months.

Comments from people who heard of the remarks and sent unsolicited responses were overwhelmingly negative, including 187 emails and letters, according to the correspondence reviewed by the AP.

The Rev. Thomas Shuler, a Catholic priest in Lookout Mountain, Ga., was among at least five priests who wrote or emailed the university to demand something be done.

"I cannot recall in my lifetime (68 years old) such a blatant public display of ignorance and bigotry by an official — academic and otherwise — the rank and stature of your president," Shuler said in a May 30 email to university trustees.

A second category of responses involved comments from people who responded to a form letter apology that Gee emailed to the university community on May 31.

Of those, 225 were positive, with 21 negative, records show.

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