From reporters Jake Zuckerman and Ryan Quinn in this morning’s Charleston Gazette-Mail:
West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said the university will look to shift the cost of his flights on private planes to be paid through university donations rather than tuition dollars.
This comes after a report showing Gee spent more than $2.2 million between May 2014 and June 2017 in private air travel.
A Gazette-Mail analysis of the flight records provided by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office shows Gee regularly flew from Morgantown to Charleston, a roughly 2.5-hour drive that Gee said flying cuts to about a half-hour. He flew 31 times to Columbus, Ohio, in those 37 months to conduct business that Gee said was connected to raising WVU’s profile and its donations. He also flew to places like Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Florida with his fiancée, who Gee said also is both a major donor and effective fundraiser.
Gee explained the Charleston flights:
“A 3 hour-drive to Charleston, I get nothing done,” Gee said, aside from a few phone calls.
“I’m 74-years-old; I’m an old codger,” he said, saying he returned to WVU at the start of 2014 to “help out a bit,” and saying that could end any day.
“My time is my most precious possession,” Gee said.
Of his various destinations, I found Gee’s explanations for the 31 Columbus trips at an average $5100/trip (most to Ohio State University where he previously served as President) the most disingenuous. For instance:
“We have simply hired almost all of the good people they have there to come to our institution,” Gee said.
(He interviewed them? Does Ohio State know about this brain drain? I’ll bet they are very upset.)
On Jan. 13, 2017, Gee took the school’s rented private plane to Columbus. The flight cost $9,480. The invoice states he did so to collaborate with different authors.
“Meet with Herb Asher, faculty member at OSU, regarding a book he is writing on E. Gordon Gee’s leadership in higher education,” the invoice states as the “business justification” for the flight. “Also meet with Steve Gavazzi, professor at OSU Mansfield, regarding a book he is writing with President Gee on land-grant institutions.”
He returned June 9, 2017, paying $4,840 to attend “meetings regarding book,” per the invoice.
Gee said books he has written and books written about him can lead to recognition, money and other benefits for WVU.
(I’d say that WVU really got their money’s worth with those trips.)
Two other Ohio trips also caught my attention, and both included his fiancé -- one was to attend John Glenn’s funeral ($5,214) and the other is even more unexplainable:
The couple also went to Columbus in June 2016 for the Association of Ohio Commodores, an organization that honors economic development in that state.
"The Ohio Commodores are the 100 most important people in Ohio," Gee said. He said he was there to introduce former OSU head football coach Jim Tressel.
And how did this trip enhance West Virginia University?
Any chance we’ll read about this in a Wheeling paper? No. E. Gordon Gee is an Ogden favorite and a frequent source for articles and Mike Myer columns. We were recently spared Gee’s State of the University address but we did get a Myer column praising him and his address:
But education remains both WVU’s basic mission and West Virginia’s greatest need.
We need to do better. That will require flexibility and responsiveness of the type Gee seems to champion.
Give him credit, Gee is flexible and responsive: the university says that in the future his travel expenses will come from donations not tuition.
3/17 update - Some things don't change
As a follow-up to yesterday's Gazette-Mail article, today's Dayton Daily News revisits some of their coverage of Gee's excessive spending during his tenures at Ohio State University. Laura A. Bischoff writes:
Gee served as Ohio State president twice — 1990 to 1997 and 2007 to 2013. From Oct. 1, 2007, to June 30, 2012, his discretionary spending on travel, tailgating, special events, his residence and other operations totaled $7.77 million. The Dayton Daily News waited 11-months for Ohio State to fully comply with records requests for reports detailing his spending.
The records showed Gee stayed in luxury hotels, dined at country clubs and swank restaurants, threw lavish parties, flew on private jets and handed out thousands of gifts — all at public expense. While at Ohio State, Gee ranked as the highest-paid president of a public university.
Gee spent at least $844,000 on travel between 2007 and 2012 at Ohio State, including two trips to China and international travel to Iceland, Turkey, France and the United Kingdom. OSU funded the travel with unrestricted endowment money.
The Daily News kept a close eye on Gee's spending. For example, from a 2012 article on his discretionary spending:
The university spends tens of thousands of dollars alone branding Gee around his signature bow ties. Since 2007, Ohio State has spent more than $64,000 on bow ties, bow tie cookies and O-H and bow tie pins for Gee and others to distribute, the newspaper found.
The article, however, did not mention whether they paid Gee's dues for the Columbus chapter of Narcissists-R-Us.