News Conference Transcript

Remarks by E. Gordon Gee, president-elect of Brown University,
at news conference Friday, June 27, 1997, in Maddock Alumni Center

Following an introduction by Artemis A. W. Joukowsky, chancellor of the University,
President-elect E. Gordon Gee and his wife, Constance Bumgarner Gee, stepped to the podium.
(Photograph by John Forasté; copyright ©1997 by Brown University.)

Thank you very much. I'm bringing up my present faculty colleague and my new faculty colleague, Dr. Constance Gee, who is one of the great assets that we have at Ohio State and obviously is going to be an equal partner in this endeavor we call Brown. I just want to have chance for you all to see her--and you may want to ask her some questions.

First of all, I am absolutely honored and delighted to be here today. This is the end of a long journey for me. It started with my aspiration to think a bit about the academic life and has ended at one this nation's most distinguished institutions. I've had an honor and an opportunity to serve at three great American public universities. This is my first opportunity to serve at an institution that is private in name, but public in scope, and one that I truly and deeply appreciate.

I would like to first note that this has not been an easy journey for me. I'm leaving a place that I love deeply. Constance and I have been treated with warmth and grace, with respect and with understanding during our years at Ohio State. It is an institution of remarkable depth and scope, clearly one of America's great public universities. I hope I leave that institution a bit better than I found it. I certainly know that it leaves us better than it found us. For that we are enormously grateful.

Now we're here, and I want you to know that I could not be more enthusiastic, more excited, more delighted to be at a place that clearly has a sense of charter, a sense of purpose, a sense of dignity, a sense of focus that is quite unique in American higher education, quite unique in higher education in general.

I come to a place that calls itself a university-college. And it is that. It is a place that believes deeply in the notion of being a university, and the universality of education, the concept of thinking, the concept of scholarship, the concept of bringing those notions together with very bright students.

I come to a place that clearly has one of this nation's most distinguished faculty. Let me just say that again. We come to a place that has one of this country's most distinguished faculty. My responsibility will be to make sure they have the tools and the ability to be able to further distinguish themselves. And I accept that not lightly; I accept that with great deference.

I come to a place that has some of the best students literally in the world. They will challenge us. I understand that every once in a while that they'll be a bit noisy. So be it, because I'm a noisy president. I look forward to that dialogue with these students in a way that I hope will garner not only mutual respect, but mutual understanding and help all of us be better because we, together, are going to lead this nation forward. That is the nature of the Brown student and I'm glad to be part of that.

Finally, of course, we have a remarkable staff. One need only take a walk across this great green space here which I've just had an opportunity to do, which we quietly did the other day - supposedly unbeknownst - and see that it is a place that is tenderly cared for. It's a place that people believe deeply in, and they have a sense of purpose about it as an institution, so I do welcome my opportunity to come and join with them in making this an even more dynamic place.

Let me just say that Brown not only has a beautiful and historic campus, but what I love about it is I love the Van Wickle Gates which face in and out. I love the fact that I'm coming to a place that, though a private institution, does have that public purpose in which they believe in looking beyond their gates. They're not isolated by the notion of some kind of Berlin Wall around them, but by the notion of ideas and opportunities. This is a public purpose though a private institution. We'll reach beyond those gates to Providence and to the world. That I think is the purpose of Brown and one that I deeply understand and deeply appreciate from my own experience.

None of this would've happened without these gentlemen right here [motioning to Chancellor Joukowsky and Chancellor-elect Stephen Robert] and without a great Corporation.

I think that one of things that impressed me almost immediately when I came to my small but quiet interviews was the deep affection those who have responsibility for this place have for it. It was readily apparent to me that this is an institution where people do not view themselves as part of a governing board. They view themselves as part of a love affair. And we're all going to love it together. So I say to our chancellor, a person I've gotten to know shortly, but for whom I have enormous respect; to the chairman of our search committee, Alva Way, to the chancellor-elect Steve Robert, and I certainly want to give great deference to the on-campus committee. One would not be here without having had strong support, and without having had a vital and capable campus search committee, a faculty committee that looked at me and I looked at them, and hopefully together we saw something that can empower both of us.

... By the way, I might announce to our athletic director - is he here? [David Roach, Brown's athletic director, stood at the rear of the room.] I want you know right now that one of the things that I do when I change from institution to institution is that I always bring my present football team to play my new football team and we do have an open date on September 5, so we look forward to that. ["As long as it's a big guarantee," Roach responded]

["I thought the deal was we were going to swap football teams," Robert said. There was a great deal of laughter.]

Anyway, thank you very much. Any questions you may have?

Maria Stephanos, Ch. 10 (NBC affiliate in RI): "Seven years at Ohio State. Tough decision?"

Gee: Very tough. It was not an easy decision. If we look a bit tired it's because of the fact that we had to wrestle with this decision, not because of the fact we knew Brown was a great place, and was the right place for us. It's simply not easy leaving family and friends and people that you love and an institution that has embraced you, so it was not an easy decision. But nonetheless it is the right decision, and it's one that we feel very good about.

Stephanos: "You seem awfully enthusiastic."

Gee: Let me tell you something. One of my characteristics is the fact that I love being part of great universities. I feel very empowered today because I think that I have come to a place that has one moniker and that is that it's going to do it better than anywhere else. That is quite a remarkable opportunity for someone in my business. Whatever we do at Brown, we'll do better than anyone else, I can assure you.

Stephanos: "Is this the end of your road?" [laughter]

Gee: The end of my road as a university president? I've been thinking of an acting career after this, [more laughter] but I can assure you that this will be the last university presidency that I undertake. I think I hold the record now - 17 years at three public universities, moving from big university to very big university to biggest university. And now I've moved from an aircraft carrier to a speedboat. That is a real opportunity for me and one that I relish.

Morgan McVicar, Providence Journal: "In some ways you might seem an odd fit for Brown. Your career has been in the Midwest and at West Virginia, very conservative parts of the country, in some cases very conservative institutions. At Ohio State you're going from a state university known for its graduate program, certainly not in Brown's class undergraduate-wise, do you anticipate difficulty in going from the kind of conservative background you've been in - and in strictly public universities with the exception of Brigham Young - to one of the most liberal campuses if not the most liberal in the country, and a very small private institution?"

Gee: Let me try to respond by saying that I've thought long and hard about that. I asked that question very directly, I asked that question myself, Constance and I asked that question of each other, the trustees certainly asked that question. The bottom line is the fact that I feel very, very comfortable about this choice. Indeed, let me just say that I bring a different kind of an experience. I am not what one would say the odds-on likely choice when one thinks about a president of Brown, one thinks about someone coming from one of your sister institutions in the Ivies, from a smaller private institution - that's certainly been the track record in the past. But as you know I will be the fourth university president from the Big Ten to move to the Ivy League in the last short period of time. My other colleagues at Cornell and at Dartmouth and at Princeton have had extraordinary success partly, they assure me, because of the fact they've had that experience in the public sector.

As for "liberal," I don't know what that means. If it means engaged, if it means wonderfully lively, if it means people who believe in speaking their mind, that is the way that it is around our house, let alone around the university, so we will continue to enjoy and be part of that kind of an environment.

Frank Baker, Associated Press, "Two things. One, how up to speed are you on the Title IX lawsuit and what are your feelings on that?"

Gee: Let me say I'm a lawyer; I've taught Cohen vs. Brown, actually I just taught it as one of my last teaching duties at Ohio State, so I'm up to snuff on it in terms of the legal parameters. As to what Brown's response and what is happening I have not been fully briefed on it. I'm the chairman of the Big Ten Conference and until I leave, and as you know, the Big Ten has made an extraordinary effort to be in the forefront in terms of equity in sports, and has done so. My own institution, which plays 34 intercollegiate sports, my own institution now that plays 34 intercollegiate sports, has made a commitment when I came to move to the 60-40 equity level, and we just recommitted ourselves to move much closer to 50-50 - and that is precisely what we are doing. I am very, very committed to that, I believe in that. I have made a very strong statement. Cohen vs. Brown itself is an interesting case, awkwardly derived at and awkwardly written in some ways, speaking as a law professor, but nonetheless the point is clear and until that law changes, Brown will be consistently compliant with that, I can assure you.

Baker: "As a lawyer then, were you surprised at the ruling?"

Gee: Well, it left open a number of questions, yes. I think that ambiguity creates some real difficulties.

Baker: "The other question I had was just, what do you like feel you bring to the table? There's been much interest in you at North Carolina and out in California and elsewhere, the SUNY system."

Gee: One thing it shows is that there are a lot of university presidencies that are open, and very few that have survived, I guess [laughter]. Saying that, seriously, I think that what I do bring is a wealth of experience, I bring a depth of understanding of universities, I bring a real commitment to the academic issues of institutions such as this. Whether you're in public or private life in higher education, my commitment is to scholarship, my commitment is to faculty, my commitment is to students and I think I've exhibited that enthusiastically and directively and certainly have had a very strong track record in having success in making good things happen at the institutions where I've been involved.

McVicar: "When your predecessor arrived at Brown, tuition was $13,375; today it's more than $25,000. You're chairing the Kellogg Foundation study of the so-called crisis in higher education, particularly as it deals with tuition. How do you think the foundation's work is progressing and what do you see is the crisis as far as private higher education and tuition in succeeding $25,000?"

Gee: I think that one of the challenges that Brown faces and a number of the institutions that are substantially tuition-driven is precisely that. How does one compete in world in which there are the Ohio States of the world, that charge for an in-state student about $9,000 a year, room, board, tuition and fees and are working very hard to provide a high-quality undergraduate experience, and as you noted from our Kellogg work, we really focused on the undergraduate experience. My belief is that people will pay for a Brown education if they believe that we're doing it better than anyone else. So that's the reason that I said that our focus has to be on being the very best. And that's an opportunity by the way that we have at Brown, to be the very best. People in this country, whether it be parents, whether it be students, whether it be those who want to have access to that kind of an environment will be willing to pay for that. Now at the same time, I'm not bullish on tuition. I don't believe that one should just continue to charge at whatever level. I believe that one needs to make certain that you're making very tough decisions internally in terms of allocation, re-allocation, in terms of making certain you don't simply make let your budget grow by accretion, but rather that it grows by substitution.

Finally, that we make certain that what we are doing, that we're delivering the very best of our effort at a cost that is commensurate to what makes sense within the context of what is a very dynamic budgetary time.

McVicar: "I assume your wife is going to be teaching at Brown?"

Constance Gee: Yes I am.

McVicar: "In what department?"

Constance Gee: I'll be in Public Policy and Education.

McVicar [to E. Gordon Gee]: "And do you plan to teach as well?"

Gee: I do. I have taught all of my years, I've been teaching in law schools the last 17 years. My appointment here is in public policy and education also, so we're actually faculty colleagues.

McVicar: Can I just ask you to address the issue - you withdrew from consideration at the University of California after it was made public that you'd given secret bonuses, lucrative bonuses to top administrators at the University of Colorado. Can you--

Gee: That wasn't the reason - first of all, let me just say that -

McVicar: It was characterized that way in reports. That's why I'm asking.

Gee: Let me just say that I didn't even see that news report and by the way, those were deferred compensations that were approved internally. Nonetheless, the reason I withdrew from the presidency of the University of California was not because I did not think the University of California was a great institution. It was that when it became public that I was thinking about going to the University of California, there was an enormous, supportive outpouring of cards and letters and faxes a variety of other things from Ohio, which made me feel absolutely wonderful. And the two of us, when we went to bed in Hong Kong and said we were going to take the job, we woke up the next morning and the manager of the Regent Hotel called up the room and said, `We don't know what's going on, but you have burned out our fax machine.' So with that kind of support, I felt that it was probably - it was a very difficult decision anyway, we just didn't want to make it.

Second of all, I will say this, that there was a good deal of concern that I had and Constance and I shared together about the issues surrounding affirmative action that were just being played out at that time. I frankly felt that I didn't want to be the leader in that issue. I have very strong views and wanted to be at a place in which I felt the support of those issues were appropriate.

McVicar: Are you going to be recruiting as you did at Ohio State for the football team here?

Gee: Let me tell you something. I'll recruit students, I'll recruit faculty, I'll recruit for any programs that are necessary.

Constance Gee: Do you think we can beat Michigan?


Gee: That'll be our goal. But I can assure that I will be very heavily engaged in recruiting, because I think that's one of the roles of the university president, is to work very, very diligently, to make sure that you make a difference at the institution by personally engaging yourself.

Thank you very much, I appreciate it.