The Art of Controversy

By Kyle Rowland on June 4, 2013 at 9:30a
Julie Hermann's job status is in jeopardy.

In recent weeks, the Big Ten has been at the center of multiple public relations disasters. First came the hiring of Julie Hermann as Rutgers athletic director. The move was seen as a positive after the controversial ending of Tim Pernetti’s tenure.

Rutgers brass was hailed as progressive by hiring a woman, the first female athletic director in school history. When the Scarlet Knights enter the Big Ten in 2014, Hermann will be just the second woman AD in the 117-year history of the conference. That is if she is still employed.

Since her hiring, numerous controversies and scandals from her past have arisen. Former Tennessee women’s volleyball players have come forward and said Hermann, who served as the head coach of the Volunteers for six seasons was verbally and emotionally abusive. In a letter to documenting Hermann’s alleged abuses, 15 members of the 1996 Tennessee team stated that Hermann called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”

As if that wasn’t enough controversy, the New York Times reported Hermann was involved in a sex discrimination lawsuit in 2008 at Louisville, where she served as a senior athletics administrator until being hired by Rutgers. An assistant track and field coach expressed concern to Hermann about sexist behavior and “discriminatory treatment” by the head coach. Less than three later, the assistant coach was fired. The lawsuit states Hermann was the decision maker in the coach’s termination.

Many believe Hermann will never take over day-to-day duties of the Rutgers athletic department, a position she’s set to assume on June 17. The hullabaloo over Hermann comes after Pernetti was fired in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal. University president Robert Barchi is the ultimate goat, though, opting not to watch videotape of Rice’s deplorable behavior when he was first told about the conduct.

That decision combined with not taking any fault in allowing Rice to stick around too long and then the Hermann fiasco, clearly a poor case of vetting a candidate, has Barchi looking like a clumsy president.

Then Gordon Gee came along.

The now infamous recording of Gee slighting what seemed like every school in the country, including Catholics, landed the outspoken Ohio State leader in hot water yet again. In the past few years, Gee made tone-deaf statements at a press conference regarding NCAA violations and offended the Little Sisters of the Poor and Polish-Americans, among others.

Job status: employed. Gee: a fundraising machine.

The public’s reaction each time has been headshaking mixed with a “Gordon being Gordon” mentality. His latest comments elicited a more harsh response and a zero tolerance tag from the board of trustees. But rest assured, Gee is going nowhere. He is far too valuable.

That is the difference between Julie Hermann and Gordon Gee.

Donors have already indicated their displeasure with Hermann, and that’s on top of the embarrassing headlines. Rutgers is a university and athletic department that can ill afford a financial letdown. Fundraising is the lifeblood of any program and a decrease in that category is the quickest way for athletic directors to become unemployed.

Current projects at Rutgers include a $30 million renovation of the basketball arena and a $1 billion university-wide capital campaign. A portion of that – $100 million – is dedicated to athletics and sprucing up other aging facilities before the school joins the Big Ten next year. The only problem is only $81.5 million has been raised at this point.

Rutgers' move to the Big Ten will result in a bigger bottom line, but that doesn't change importance of Hermann's job. The most crucial task she will undertake is securing funds from deep-pocketed donors to make up for the shortfall.

Hermann is certain to find the courting of contributors a difficult chore, though, considering many of Rutgers’ biggest donors were vocal in disagreeing with Pernetti being axed. However, she believes an opportunity to sit down with some of the athletic departments top supporters will lead to continuing partnerships. 

“When I have the opportunity to actually arrive on campus and meet the people who are going to be critically involved with supporting Rutgers, I think they will meet me and know me and know what I stand for,” Hermann said.

But based on statements made from the very people that have given in the past, Hermann’s carefree attitude needs adjusting. This is a university that’s been completely splintered by months of turmoil and unrest.

Dan Wheeler, a founding member of the Society of Old Queens, a group of alums who donate $1 million-plus to Rutgers over their lifetime, and a strong Pernetti supporter, resigned from the school’s Board of Overseers when Pernetti was forced to resign.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but the situation at Rutgers is so unsettling to me I don’t know how I can be involved,” he told the Newark Star-Ledger.

The move to the Big Ten galvanized the Rutgers community. Through the first five months of the 2013 the school raised close to the same amount its obtained in calendar years. But donations made to the athletic department have already slowed. 

Perhaps the biggest indictment against Hermann’s effectiveness came from the board of trustees. Board member Abram J. Suydam Jr. asked fellow members how Hermann could possibly be efficient in rallying supporters of the athletic department and university when so much harm has already been done.

“If Ms. Hermann assumes the office, the unintended consequences will continue to manifest themselves,” Suydam wrote. “By ripping this beloved university of ours apart, the leadership sets her up for a fall. How is she to successfully raise funds, a highly important part of the position, when so many donors will have decided that they have other life choices for their funds that are not the laughing stock of the country? Setting that aside, it will/would take years to overcome the perception of this university and its decision. As the old saying goes, ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure.’”

The Scarlet Knights already have a poor history in terms of fundraising. The university’s endowment is less than $750 million, ranking last in the Big Ten by a wide margin. Overall, Rutgers ranks outside the top 100 and sits behind the University of Delaware.

“If Ms. Hermann assumes the office, the unintended consequences will continue to manifest themselves.”

Gee, on the other hand, has made a career out of raising money and doing so in vast sums. It’s why many consider him to be the best university president in the country.

When it was learned that Gee, who makes nearly $2 million a year, more than any other public university president, had almost the same amount in personal expenses, the university justified it by pointing to the $1.6 billion he’s raised since returning to Ohio State in 2007. That includes secured some of the largest single donations in the university’s history.

Over the past two decades, Ohio State has transitioned from a state school that admitted most anyone to a leading research institution. Through it all, the athletic department and football program remained the most visible part of the university.

Football Saturdays are the biggest days of the year whether you’re a student, fan, alum or academic. Attracting donors for athletic programs and university-wide projects isn’t an issue for Ohio State.

The latest Gee fiasco was embarrassing for him and Ohio State, but the negative headlines have already subsided. Gee is guilty of being ignorant and making ill-advised jokes – that is it. He hasn’t caused irreparable harm to the university. He sounds more like a crazy uncle than a college president at times, but the university’s mission remains on track and Gee is still a bow-tie wearing rock star to students and alumni alike.

He is also hugely popular with business and industry leaders. It comes from a charismatic personality that wins people over with each stump speech. Whether it’s barnstorming through the state’s 88 counties or speaking to a local rotary club, Gee immediately becomes the most popular person in the room – and the most photographed.

Armed with a $4 billion budget – larger than the state of Delaware – Gee has proven to be a transformative and revolutionary leader in bringing Ohio State to the forefront of higher education. 

That’s why he’ll keep his job.


Comments Show All Comments

Ohio State Ombre's picture

well written article, thanks for posting! being a recently graduated ohio state alumni, my friends and I are all in agreement that Gee's recent actions have not changed our view on him as a very progressive and important leader for ohio state

Oyster's picture

It would seem as though somebody who dislikes Dr Gee, decided to show you their dislike for your support of him.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

Ohio State Ombre's picture

which is unfortunate (not for me, just that someone dislikes Dr. Gee), as Dr. Gee has truly done a lot for the university as a whole, specifically academics AND athletics. The money he raises is not going directly to the athletic department, it is for grants and scholarships for students as well as upgraded facilities around campus. ive also seen quite a few big time recruits mention how their visit to ohio state was one of the few if any that they got one on one (well recruit, parents, and Gee) time with the university president. it is truly amazing how he makes everyone feel special. i cant tell you how many people were mobbed around him when he was walking down high street during senior crawl, and everyone wanted a picture with him. Not once did he turn someone down or make them feel like he has somewhere more important to be. He enjoys being that awkward uncle to all the students, because after all, who doesnt like their awkward uncle? I know my awkward uncle (by blood) has meant a lot to me, so I can relate to the stigma that Gee has in a lot of the students minds

pjtobin's picture

Drunk whore with a learning disability??? My wife never played volleyball.

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

zbd's picture

She must have been talking about my mother-in-law.

ArizonaBuckeye's picture

That Julie Hermann just looks like a b*tch. I say she's not there by the time Rutgers is in the BIG. 

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you." -Woody Hayes-

Breakawayspeed's picture

B*tch?  No.  But, I'd say she might fit the bill for the "Giant Woman" that George Costanza fantasized about nailing. 

ArizonaBuckeye's picture

+1 for the George Costanza reference.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you." -Woody Hayes-

OSUs12-OH's picture

I'm just so happy that it's not OSU in the limelight.  That's for sure!  Well, I take that back. OSU's beloved President did make us look bad lately but not as bad as the stuff at Rutgers;-)

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

Stinson's picture

Love the mouse-over text on the Gee picture.

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

zbd's picture

Gee is thanking Julie Hermann for taking some of the heat off him.  Maybe Rutgers can hire Gee so he will fit right in with making stupid, crazy comments about nationalities, religions and other football teams and looking like a clown.  

tennbuckeye19's picture

Anyone else get an 'Einhorn is Finkle' vibe from Julie Hermann? 

JYBUCKEYE's picture

Your gun is digging into my hip. Geeew!

Bucks43201's picture

A lot of these are just allegations. And all of the sudden - they're coming out now. Interesting timing.
Seems a bit of piling on Rutgers without concrete evidence, and I'm not even a Rutgers supporter. By the way, you won't hear it mentioned in the media much, but there are former players who strongly support this broad. That dirty rag, the New York Times, won't give that a lot of press.
By the way, I'm sure Bobby Knight's said worse. He was mildly successful.

Too much oversensitivity and political correctness out there today. Just look at that $75,000 fine on Pacers star Roy Hibbert for jokingly saying "no homo", (which is a line from a rap song, btw). Yes, that is not a misprint...$75,000! Absolutely crazy! Professional players and coaches can say "G.d." all they want --- yet there will be no fine, and no ESPN uproar. Double standard much?
I'm not defending what Julie Hermann ALLEGEDLY said, but, even if she's being way overinflated. Much ado about nothing.

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

penult's picture

What does political correctness have to do with this??? The "allegations" are of abuse and wrongful termination.  Tired of people twisting things into a pulpit for whining about political correctness. This comment is the most political comment I've seen on here in months.

Bucks43201's picture

not sure how this is "the most political comment...", I didn't even mention one politician.
I just think this is yet another  example of the media blowing up something that's not a big deal. Again, like I said, these are allegations that don't really carry a lot of water. I don't know, maybe I touched a nerve with you on the NYT or the Hibbert comment.
With regards to the PC-ification of American, this is another example of the political correctness agenda in the media and society today. The Gee comments being blown out of proportion and out of context was another example.
Coaches are now way over-scrutinized for what they say...every generation is becoming softer and softer. So your coach (allegedly) called you a few bad names to motivate you...big deal. Get over it. My coaches when I played said horrible things like this to his players...nobody cried about it, especially not 16 years later!

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

penult's picture

Agenda or conspiracy? 
You don't have to name a politician to make a political statement.
Gee comments got attention because he and OSU are a big name, not some crazy tin-foil conspiracy that everybody in the"media" is in on.
My coaches called yelled at me and called me horrible things, but they were never derogatory toward other groups of people.
And just because it's a "line from a rap song" doesn't mean it's okay to say in any setting.

Bucks43201's picture

1.) There is no "tin-foil conspiracy" regarding the media, what I wrote about the media is true. They clearly have PC agendas; if you don't see that --- you're blind.
2.) Get a thicker skin.

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

ArTbkward's picture

The State of Delaware is probably offended by this article.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Wait a minute...didn't this lady star in Picard's Star Trek as Beverly, the doctor lady?

I like cookies.

Buckin-J's picture

But rest assured, Gee is going nowhere. He is far too valuable.

Unfortunately this is no longer true.  Buckeye Nation will sure miss Gee and his humor, even if some people don't know how to take a joke these days.

Go Bucks or go home.