IN 1981, the Board of Governors at West Virginia University took a chance on the young dean of its law school and made E. Gordon Gee WVU's president.
A few months into his term, the chairman of the English Department and the dean of libraries met with him to tell him he was not cutting it, Gee said in a recent interview with Travis Hoewischer at Ohio State.
"You don't talk like a university president. You wear argyle socks, you go out and party with the students, you wear bow ties and khaki pants," he was told.
Gee tried to wear the more traditional three-piece suit and conform to the role. But it wasn't him. He felt miserable. So he went back to his old attire and became successful.
"The irony is, though, now many may associate your iconic bow ties and socks with exactly how a college president dresses," Hoewischer told him.
"Yes. I think one of the dangers of academic administration at the leading universities is [that] people become very gray, very non-descript," Gee replied.
Gee is very descript. He has returned as temporary president of WVU after a 28-year sojourn in which he led such institutions as Brown, Vanderbilt and Ohio State (twice). His appointment gives the Board of Governors time to find a permanent president following the departure of Jim Clements to head Clemson.
The WVU board should take its good old time. Over the decades, Gee has gained much experience without losing any enthusiasm. In taking the job, Gee issued a statement to the board.
"I said, 'I don't want to be an interim because I don't want to act, I want to be'," Gee told the Daily Mail's editorial board. "I want to give it every ounce of my commitment and my energy there."
Gee visited Charleston last week to attend the governor's State of the State address. It is part of Gee's push to strengthen the school's ties with the Legislature. He also wants to be part of the university community. He also wants to improve the quality of education and moderate its expense.
Those things take time. The board should give that to him.