February 11, 2000

Health mission key to Vanderbilt’s success: Gee

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Chancellor-elect E. Gordon Gee

Health mission key to Vanderbilt's success: Gee

Vanderbilt's next Chancellor said some university leaders across the country like to joke that their "vision of hell is presiding over an institution with an academic health center."

If that's the case, not only has E. Gordon Gee been to hell and back, he's actually excited about making a return trip.

"Some people have that idea, but my ideas are quite the opposite," Gee said in a telephone interview from his Rhode Island home. "I have been president of three institutions that have had large academic health centers and each of them had very specific problems. Particularly at this point in time, academic health centers are facing enormous challenges.

"But I am energized about the prospect of facing the challenges presented by today's health care environment and working with colleagues to develop solutions."

Gee, the 56-year-old former president of Brown University, was introduced earlier this week as Vanderbilt University's seventh Chancellor. In August, he will succeed Joe B. Wyatt, whose leadership and commitment to excellence have guided Vanderbilt for the past 18 years.

"Joe Wyatt has been an outstanding supporter of this medical center," said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs. "I have enjoyed working with him and have benefitted greatly from his counsel. Despite the challenges that academic health centers face, we have shared an optimism that here at Vanderbilt, not only will we meet these challenges, we will rise above them to seize the many opportunities broadly described by the word 'academic.'

"Our Chancellor-elect, Gordon Gee, understands and values what medical centers bring to a university. He has shared with me his high level of interest in supporting and promoting our continued efforts to be one of this country's leading academic health centers. I look forward to working with him and on behalf of all of us at the medical center, I welcome Gordon, his wife Constance and his daughter Rebekah (a medical student at Cornell) to the Vanderbilt family," Jacobson said.

In previous leadership positions — West Virginia University, the University of Colorado and Ohio State University — Gee became all too familiar with the multiple issues facing academic health centers. These include the rapid growth of managed care and the ongoing struggle to secure adequate reimbursement at the state and federal levels for both patient care services as well as medical education.

Across the nation, academic health centers such as VUMC are enduring financial hardships while navigating through today's evolving health care environment. Keeping institutions such as VUMC healthy is crucial not only to Vanderbilt, but to people everywhere, Gee said.

"On a scale of one-to-10, with 10 representing the most vulnerable, academic health centers are at a 10 right now because in this country we have refused to realize that the centerpiece of the excellent health care that we already have in this nation is academic health centers," Gee said. "That's where medical training takes place. That's where cures for cancer are found and where scientific discoveries that will benefit all people are made. But we as a nation have been increasingly reluctant to fund them."

Overcoming the obstacles facing academic health centers such as VUMC is one of the main reasons Gee decided to come to Vanderbilt.

"I believe there are solutions and I believe in strong advocacy, both at the state and national levels and I believe that there are opportunities to continue to operate academic health centers to be more responsive to the changing environment in which we operate. I am excited about working with everyone and look forward to being part of the effort to overcome the challenges," Gee said.

Through patient care, education and research, Gee is impressed with the impact institutions such as VUMC can have on society.

"Vanderbilt Medical Center has become a regional health center and attracts people from across the nation. As the largest private employer in the region, its economic impact is quite astonishing," Gee said.

"But the real issue is quality of life. High quality of life can only occur if there is high quality health care and first-rate educational institutions. Health care is a big part of the quality-of-life issues which I think are important to Nashville and the state of Tennessee."

Academic health centers such as VUMC are also crucial to the overall health of a university.

"Vanderbilt is a major research university and I believe we need to engage in research and let other people around the world know about our research. Through various ways, including technology transfer, we need to continue to take advantage of the creative minds that we have on campus.

"Strong academic health centers provide a great base for strengthening the entire institution," Gee said. "The strengths in the various sciences and research programs have a substantial impact on a university in terms of both the undergraduate and graduate programs because of the standards they set and the relationships that can be developed.

"They provide the opportunities for cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary work that I believe massively strengthen the intellectual health of the university. I believe a healthy medical center is good for all departments and programs and helps create collaborative opportunities university-wide," Gee said.

In 1997, Gee was named president of Brown, where he also holds a faculty appointment as professor of education and public policy. Under his leadership, the Providence, R.I., university has launched new interdisciplinary programs in human values and life sciences, and doubled its annual fund-raising in the space of two years. He is a prodigious fundraiser who has been responsible for several successful campaigns.

Gee is also an active member of the community, serving as director of Health & Education Leadership for Providence; president of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council; director of the Providence Plan; trustee of the Providence Foundation; member of the Economic Policy Council; director of Grow Smart Rhode Island; and chairman of the search committee seeking a new school superintendent for the City of Providence. Gee currently serves as president of the Ivy League Council of Presidents.

A prominent national advocate for higher education, Gee has served as chairman of the Association of American Universities, chairman of the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land Grant Universities, and a member of the NCAA President’s Commission.

A native of Vernal, Utah, Gee graduated from the University of Utah in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He earned a law degree and doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1971 and 1972, respectively, after which he served as a judicial clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Gee’s first academic position was as assistant dean of the law school at the University of Utah. From 1974 to 1975, he was a judicial fellow and senior staff assistant in the chambers of the Chief Justice of the United States. Gee returned to Utah in 1975 to serve as associate dean and professor of law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University. In 1979, he was named dean and professor of law at West Virginia University.

Gee first served as a chief executive officer at the age of 37, when he was elected president at West Virginia. He became president of the University of Colorado in 1985, and, in 1990, moved to The Ohio State University.

With more than 50,000 students, 30,000 faculty and staff, and an operating budget of $2 billion, Ohio State is the largest single university campus in the United States. It includes the country’s largest academic medical center and one of the most comprehensive intercollegiate athletics programs, with 34 varsity sports. As president, Gee led a major academic and administrative restructuring, and initiated a billion-dollar capital campaign.

Gee has written or co-written seven books, including Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library, which won the American Library Association’s G.K. Hall Award in 1990 for outstanding contribution to library literature. The second edition of Education Law and the Public Schools: A Compendium was published in 1997.

Gee is married to Constance Bumgarner Gee, assistant professor of public policy and education at Brown, and the former director of the Arts Policy and Administration Program at Ohio State. She will hold a faculty appointment at Peabody College.