It may have been 28 years since E. Gordon Gee served in any official capacity at West Virginia University, but you couldn’t tell that Tuesday (Dec. 10) when Gee decked in his trademark bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses laughed and mingled with dozens within the Mountaineer community at a welcome reception at Erickson Alumni Center.
Gee was named president of WVU Friday, effective Jan. 6, his seventh stint leading a major university in a storied career highlighted by vigorous fundraising and an amicable relationship with students.
He was first named president at WVU, where he was then dean of the law school, in 1981 at age 36. He would go on to serve as president of the University of Colorado (1985-1990), Brown University (1998-2000), Vanderbilt University (2000-2007) and The Ohio State University (1990-1997 and 2007-2013).
And although it’s been a while since Gee was president the first time, the crowd of faculty, staff, students and community leaders at Erickson treated him as if he’d never left. Many lined up to meet him or reintroduce themselves.
“I thanked the Board (of Governors), personally, for this opportunity to return to the place I love and appreciate,” Gee said at a news conference preceding the reception. “I want to thank the people of West Virginia. At the age of 36, they gave me opportunity to have an extraordinary life.”
Gee pointed to the importance WVU plays in the life of West Virginians.
“There’s nothing more important than having a great university in a state that’s fully committed to the social and cultural intellectual welfare of that state,” he said.
The creation of the land-grant system of higher education “opened the doors of opportunity to Americans and that is West Virginia University today and that is West Virginia University’s calling now.”
At the reception, Gee reiterated his appreciation for the people of West Virginia all 1.8 million residents and 55 counties: “They are the heart and nobility of this place,” he said.
And he pointed to the future he sees for WVU: “I’m not coming to an institution that’s broken, but an institution that has momentum,” he said.
“This is not a job for me; it’s a calling,” Gee added. “It’s a responsibility and an opportunity to thank the people and pay it forward.”
He also applauded the faculty for its dedication to students, the staff for its support of both.
Gee, who turns 70 in February, said he will serve as president until a permanent replacement is named. He will take an unpaid leave of absence from Ohio State, where he continues work for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Quality and Value Initiative.
Gee said he was “blown away” by how much Morgantown has changed since the early 1980s.
WVU BOG Chair James W. Dailey II presented Gee with a gold-and-blue Flying WV hat and tartan scarf on Tuesday signifying a complete Mountaineer transformation.
“Don’t I look good?” Gee joked as he put on his hat.
Last week, the BOG and West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission approved Gee to replace Jim Clements, who is leaving the presidency at the end of the year.
Clements and former interim president Peter Magrath a long-time friend of Gee were also on-hand, as was Susan Hardesty, representing President Emeritus David Hardesty.
Gee “came here when he was 36-years-old, and what a career he has had in higher education,” Dailey said. “We are blessed to bring him back.”
In conversations with Gee, Dailey said, board members “were really taken with the sincerity, enthusiasm and love you (Gee) have for this University and this state.
“I think we can all agree that we have one heck of a superstar.”
Gee told reporters he looked forward to working with students in the coming year.
“They keep me young,” he said. “Sometimes I keep them young. I find it a privilege to work with young people and believe strongly that this generation has the opportunity to change the world.”
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