Legendary University Lawyer President Touts Consecutive Appointments Spanning More than 40 Years
Updated: Dec 3, 2022
E. Gordon Gee, JD, EdD, has had seven presidencies at five institutions of higher education spanning from the 1980s to present. Time magazine named him one of the top 10 university presidents in 2009. A graduate of Columbia University School of Law, Gee clerked at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for Chief Justice David T. Lewis, and he worked at the U.S. Supreme Court for Chief Justice Warren Burger.
Gee entered in the academy in between his work at the courts, serving as assistant dean for administration at the University of Utah School of Law from 1973-1974. In 1975 he joined the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University as Assistant Dean and Associate Professor where he later became Associate Dean and Professor. He then moved to West Virginia University College of Law in 1979 as Dean and Professor of Law until 1981.
Gee’s first presidency at age 36 was at the University of West Virginia from 1981-1985. He departed to assume the presidency at the University of Colorado System from 1985-1990. In 1990 he was appointed as president at Ohio State University, whe
re he led the campus until 1998 when he left to become the president of Brown University. He stayed at Brown until 2000 when he joined Vanderbilt University as president until 2007. Ohio State wooed him back in 2007 where he stayed through 2013, and in 2014 he rejoined the University of West Virginia where he still serves.
Gee has been touted as “America’s university president,” and a giant among higher education leaders. He has called for recalibrating higher education and has advocated for significant changes in higher education, urging people to “Forget the ivory tower: colleges and universities are catalysts or economic development, stewards of public health, incubators of social policy and laboratories of discovery.” During his career he led a national effort to push universities to do more to help students achieve degree completion, worked on a state-wide effort to improve the quality and value of institutions of higher education, he has advocated for universities to defend free speech, strongly encouraged his campus community to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and in his recent State of the University Address, Gee declared the debate over the value of higher education over, proclaiming that, “It is more than worth it.”
In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the need for positive, long-lasting, and sustainable change in higher education, Gee’s advice to new presidents includes: immediately put forward a plan; take strategic action rather than spending too much time on strategic planning; and keep it simple – don’t make things too complicated.