Former Brown president, first lady seek divorce

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Citing “irreconcilable differences,” former Brown President Gordon Gee – now chancellor of Vanderbilt University – announced Feb. 28 that he and his wife, Constance Bumgarner Gee, will divorce.

“Constance and I have agreed to seek a divorce,” Gee said in a statement to the Vanderbilt Hustler, the student newspaper. “While this is a difficult decision, we remain committed to each other’s happiness and success. I ask that you respect our privacy regarding this issue.”

Vanderbilt spokesperson Mike Schoenfeld told the Hustler the chancellor’s divorce will not affect his career at Vanderbilt.

“It is of course a difficult personal decision for him, but Chancellor Gee is deeply committed to Vanderbilt’s success and is eager to continue building on the extraordinary progress that has occurred over the past six years in every part of our mission,” Schoenfeld said.

Student opinion about the divorce, which was filed Feb. 27 by Constance Gee, vary, but Vanderbilt sophomore America Deupree told The Herald that the common perception on campus is that Gordon Gee called it quits due to the public attention his wife’s antics have attracted to his presidencies over the years.

Gordon Gee, who resigned the Brown presidency Feb. 7, 2000, to take the top post at Vanderbilt, enjoys a much better reputation in Nashville than he did on College Hill. Gee, who is respected and well-liked at Vanderbilt, left Brown after only two years under a cloud of criticism from faculty, students and administrators.

Constance Gee, an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt, has earned a reputation at Vanderbilt as somewhat of a distraction from her husband’s work – not dissimilar to that earned during the couple’s time at Brown.

In 2004, Constance Gee signed a letter to her husband protesting a Vanderbilt graduation speech by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Later that year, she lowered the flag at the university-owned mansion, Braeburn, to half-mast after President Bush won reelection.

After the Rice tussle, Gordon Gee told the Tennessean, “I admire the fact that she feels that our relationship is strong enough that she can disagree with me, and I with her.”

Constance Gee has a reputation as a liberal and something of a socialite, the Tennessean reported March 1, while Gordon Gee is a teetotaling Mormon.

A Sept. 25, 2006, Wall Street Journal article reported Constance Gee had been smoking marijuana in the Vanderbilt chancellor’s mansion for what she claimed was an ear ailment. The Journal also reported that board members had questioned the couple’s lavish spending habits, including $6 million spent to renovate the mansion.

After the marijuana incident, some questioned the stability of the couple’s marriage, though Gordon Gee told the Hustler their marriage remained strong.

“We work every day on our relationship, marriage is a long-time relationship, and we work very hard at it,” he said.

According to an Aug. 2, 2000, Village Voice article covering the couple’s abrupt departure after only two years at Brown, similar charges of lavish spending on renovations were leveled while they were at the University.

“The (rumored) $3 million redecoration of the president’s residence went down very badly with the campus. Apparently she made the workmen tear out and redo the work several times,” Associate Professor of Music David Josephson told the Village Voice. “She took the heat for what was perceived, fairly or not I do not know, as an extravagant renovation of the residence.”

According to court filings, the couple married in 1994 in Salt Lake City. They have no children together, though Gordon Gee, a widower, has a daughter from a previous marriage.