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WVU committee endorses Gee for full-time president's job

In this Sunday, May 5, 2013 photo, then-Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee speaks during the university spring commencement in Columbus, Ohio. Gee told a university committee that Notre Dame wasn’t invited to join the Big Ten because they’re not good partners while also jokingly saying that “those damn Catholics” can’t be trusted.

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 6:03 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia University search committee on Friday did an about-face and endorsed interim President E. Gordon Gee for the job permanently.

The committee made the recommendation during an emergency meeting in Morgantown. It now goes to the WVU Board of Governors.

The decision occurs seven months after Gee retired from The Ohio State University as his critical remarks about Roman Catholics and Southeastern Conference schools were made public.

When President Jim Clements announced in November that he was leaving for Clemson, the WVU Board of Governors said the interim president would not be in line to take over full time.

But James W. Dailey, the board chairman who headed the search committee, said the committee “had a change of heart.”

“Gordon Gee is absolutely, hands-down the very best person to be at the helm of West Virginia University at this important time and place in our history,” Dailey said.

The board now must approve the hiring and rescind a motion about Gee's not being a candidate for the permanent job. The board issued a statement saying that it would meet on Monday to consider the endorsement.

The 20-member search committee had received 31 applications or nominations for the job. Instead, it passed a motion asking the board to amend the search procedure and take the necessary steps to retain the 70-year-old Gee.

Gee, who was West Virginia's president from 1981 to 1985, had intended to be around the Morgantown campus only until the summer.

“I am honored, energized and humbled by the committee's recommendation today,” said Gee, who did not attend the search committee's meeting. “My return to West Virginia has reminded me of the special spirit of this university and the unique role it plays in this state.”

After his December hiring, Gee said he didn't like the word ‘interim' anyway.

“I think it signifies ‘seat warmer,' ” Gee said at the time. “I'm a guy who likes to get in and get to work and make a difference as much as I can.”

Gee served two different stints at Ohio State, where he stumbled through a series of verbal missteps for which he had to issue apologies. He retired in July after he criticized Roman Catholics, Notre Dame and former Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema, who now coaches Arkansas.

In those remarks, made in December 2012 to Ohio State's Athletic Council, Gee said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten because the school's religious leaders are not “good partners.”

A Mormon, Gee also jokingly referred to “those damn Catholics” and lampooned the academic integrity of the University of Louisville and Southeastern Conference schools, singling out the University of Kentucky.

And he laughingly suggested that someone would have to “shoot” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith before Smith would allow the University of Cincinnati to join the Big Ten.

Even when he announced his retirement, he quipped at a news conference, “I've only got a month to ruin the university. I've got to get at it.”

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