Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee spends $7.7M to travel, entertain

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee has spent $7.7 million on top of his record-setting compensation to travel, entertain, and maintain his 9,600-square-foot mansion, an Ohio newspaper's investigation has found.

The review by The Dayton Daily News detailed spending by the 68-year-old Gee that comes on top of $8.6 in salary and benefits he's collected since returning to Columbus to lead the university in October 2007.

Records obtained by the newspaper through records requests showed Gee travels the globe often on private jets staying in luxury hotels sometimes reached by limousine, dines at country clubs and fancy restaurants, and throws dozens of expensive parties a year for thousands of guests.

In a statement, the university said endowments and private donations -- not tuition or tax dollars -- are used to fund Gee's travel and use of the residence. He did not grant the newspaper an interview for the story.

Spokesman Jim Lynch said since arriving at the university, Gee's efforts have generated $1.6 billion from donors. Steps taken by Gee over the past two years have yielded another $1 billion in investments, returns on business deals, and savings, Lynch said.

"The University has rigorous standards and processes in planning the president's budget and reviewing his expenses," the university statement said. It added, "A significant proportion of President Gee's time, travel, and use of the University Residence is devoted to resource-generation to support the work of our students and faculty. "

To come up with its expense tally, the Daily News reviewed records documenting Gee's work day, housing, American Express statements, travel expenses, and discretionary spending reports.

The investigation found the university spent more than $895,000 for gatherings at Gee's mansion in the Columbus suburb of Bexley, the Pizzuti House, between April 2008 and June 2011.

University records showed Gee hosted 16,000 guests at 275 events over the last five years, up from 5,757 guests at 138 events hosted by his predecessor Karen Holbrook, the newspaper reported.

Gee's parties are considered an essential part of the president's outreach to the community and donors. They feature specially designed and printed invitations, shuttle buses and parking valets, musicians and photographers, decorations and fresh flowers.

Guests to Gee's receptions included cyclist Lance Armstrong, actor Sidney Poitier, the president of Bangladesh and CNN correspondents Sanjay Gupta and David Gergen, students, neighbors, journalists and politicians.

The review found the university spent more than $64,000 since 2007 branding Gee around his signature bow tie with ties, bow tie cookies and O-H and bow tie pins.

Lynch said, "It's a nice icebreaker. The freshmen show up on campus and President Gee hands them a cookie. They love it. The students love it."

The university also picks up the tab for thousands of dollars for flowers Gee sends to politicians and staff members, annual airline club memberships, and concert, basketball and football tickets to be used at Gee's discretion. He's also provided with a financial planning and tax preparation stipend, a car, and housing at the president's fully-staffed residence.

Records showed the house was remodeled for $1.3 million and stocked with $673,000 in artwork, Persian rugs, European antiques and a $532 shower curtain.

University policy says the president "is expected to stay in accommodations similar to those used by executives of businesses and not-for-profit institutions; however, luxury hotels should be avoided."

The investigation found Gee often stays at modest hotels such as Courtyard and Holiday Inn Express when traveling inside Ohio, but uses more upscale accommodations exceeding $400 a night when traveling out-of-state. Those have included Le Meridien Bristol in Warsaw, The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, Loews Hotel Vogue in Montreal, Hotel George and the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C., and the Warwick in New York.

Gee has built a strong national reputation in higher education, but has been previously criticized for lavish spending.

When he was president at Brown University, the university spent $3 million renovating a home for Gee, including $400,000 for a conservatory built in Great Britain and shipped to Providence. At Vanderbilt University, where he served as chancellor, he oversaw $6 million in renovations and ran a $700,000 annual tab for parties, the Wall Street Journal found.

Gee's current stint as president of Ohio State has included a much-publicized football memorabilia scandal that led to the resignation of head football coach Jim Tressel.

According to the Daily News, Gee's travel and entertainment spending appears to outpace presidents

at similarly situated universities, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.

Between 2007 and 2011, UT-Austin President Bill Powers spent $310,560 on travel and entertainment compared to Gee's $1.1 million, records showed. University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman's travel and entertainment expenses from 2007 through 2010 totaled $410,235. Maintaining her university-owned house ran an additional $100,000 a year.

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