By his own admission, Gordon Gee is an unlikely university president.
Born during World War II in Vernal, Utah, Gee took an unfamiliar path to be head of one of the nation's most prestigious schools -- Ohio State University.
Now, the intelligent, quick-witted rural Utah boy finds himself embroiled in a controversy of his own making, which may be due in part to his roots.
"Despite leading universities for more than half my life, I am a most unlikely university president. Unlikely by virtue of several factors -- academic background, temperament, faith, and family history," he told the Columbus Metropolitan Club in a March 27 speech.
The speech was given after a controversial speech last December in which Gee mocked Notre Dame, Roman Catholics and the Southeastern Conference, but before accounts had been reported by the media.
On Friday, details of a March 11 letter sent to Gee by the university's board of trustees was reported by the Associated Press. The letter said Gee's December comments embarrassed and divided the university and run the risk of diminishing the effectiveness of its efforts.
Trustees also warned Gee that any future inappropriate comments could result in punishment including dismissal.
"The board will have no choice but to take such action," according to the letter.
An AP report this week revealed remarks Gee made to the university's Athletic Council in December, saying that Notre Dame wasn't allowed to join the Big Ten because its leaders were not good partners. He criticized its Roman Catholic priests as "holy hell" on days other than Sunday and joked "those damn Catholics" can't be trusted.
He also questioned the academic integrity of schools in the SEC and the University of Louisville.
Gee apologized in a statement Thursday and again on Twitter Thursday night.
"I am truly sorry for my comments ... such attempts at humor do not reflect Ohio State values, nor my role as its president," the tweet said.
University and athletic conference officials have almost universally called Gee's remarks inappropriate but also said his apology has been accepted.
In his March 27 speech, Gee alluded to the December incident without going into detail.
"Even as my world view has greatly expanded, I have, at times, mis-stepped. It is no secret that my attempts at humor -- to break the tension, to ease myself into a challenging moment, to establish rapport -- have sometimes had quite the opposite effect," he said.
"Those kinds of off-hand comments do not reflect my own thinking, and certainly they are not Ohio State's ideals. Twentieth-century values have no place in a forward-thinking world, and I take that very much as my own responsibility as a leader."
The Columbus Metropolitan Club is on U.S. Route 40 in Ohio, the same highway that runs through Vernal in northeastern Utah. But that is the only similarity the two regions share.
"When I was growing up, Vernal consisted of about 2,000 people. The largest attraction was, and is, nearby Dinosaur National Monument. The irony of the most popular characters in town being 150 million years old was never lost on me," the 69-year-old academic said.
Gee said Vernal was an isolated town, with no television reception, only radio. Books and the radio were his companions and his teachers. He became an early fan of Shakespeare and opera.
His world was basically his family, his Mormon faith, school and Boy Scouts, in which he earned the Distinguished Eagle award. However, because his family did travel a lot, he was able to glimpse the world outside Utah.
Still, until he graduated high school, everyone he knew was white, Mormon and Republican.
"The values of our small town were uniform because of our shared starting point, unchallenged by others from varying personal histories and perspectives," he said. "Although I did not realize it at the time, this was an odd beginning from which to grow, and an odd beginning from which to become a university president."
After graduation he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany, which helped ignite his curiosity about others and the larger world.
"Being tossed into such a radically different environment, with a clear purpose but little training, made me self-sufficient as nothing else could," he said.
He went on to graduate from the University of Utah with a degree in history. He then earned a law degree from Columbia University Law School in 1971 and was named a judicial fellow and staff assistant to the Supreme Court for one year.
He later became a professor at BYU before being named president of West Virginia University at the age of 37, one of the youngest university presidents at the time.
"During the past 50, post-Vernal, years, I have had the pleasure of living many places and experiencing many parts of the world. One of the greatest joys of my life comes from knowing and appreciating others who think entirely unlike myself. That active intellectual and social engagement is why I chose the work of higher education."
Gee is serving his second term as Ohio State's president. He was also president of Brown University from 1998-2000. His tenure there was marred by controversy. Critics felt he ran the university more like a Wall Street firm than an Ivy League institution.
He left Brown to become president of Vanderbilt University before returning to Ohio State in 2007. He was OSU's president from 1990-98.
In their March 11 letter, the trustees laid out steps Gee must take, including issuing personal apologies, getting help from professionals to revisit his personal communications and speechwriting processes and rethinking what speaking engagements he accepts.
Trustees told Gee that his attempts "to bring a bit of levity" to significant issues have had the opposite effect at times.
"As a result, instead of your words promoting and uniting us, they have sometimes embarrassed and divided us," trustee chairman Robert Schottenstein and trustee Alex Shumate, who led the search committee that hired Gee in 2007, said in the three-page letter obtained by the AP through a records request.
"Such comments are not befitting a great university like Ohio State or its leadership," the letter continued. "Although we do not believe that you intended harm, such comments risk diminishing the effectiveness of our collective efforts and of your good work."
The letter said Gee is making progress on the board's list of requirements.
"Your willingness to seek guidance and counsel on multiple levels, from a variety of sources, on how to adapt and grow is a hallmark of your leadership style and one that we value highly," the letter said.
In his March 27 speech, Gee said he must cultivate personal change in order to lead effectively. He said he plans to constantly re-evaluate his assumptions and thinking.
"The boy from Vernal, Utah -- born 10 years before the flawed notion of 'separate but equal' was put to rest, and just 24 years after women were granted the right to vote -- now leads a $6 billion global enterprise," he said.
"The dinosaurs of my past must remain there in Utah. In the small, flat, and connected world we now occupy, a university president must always think bigger."