The president of Ohio State University apologized Friday for comparing the problem of coordinating the school's many divisions to the Polish army, an off-the-cuff remark that a Polish-American group called a "slanderous" display of bigotry and ignorance.
"As you might know, I made those ill-chosen remarks during a question-and-answer session after delivering a speech," Gordon Gee said in an apology emailed to a spokeswoman for the Polish American Congress. "I realized at the time that I had made a mistake."
Gee on Wednesday had been telling an audience in Columbus of the problem of coordinating the university's 18 divisions such as independent schools and colleges.
"When we had these 18 colleges all kind of floating around, they were kind of like PT Boats, they were shooting each other," Gee said. "It was kind of like the Polish army or something. I have no idea what it was."
The comment drew a scornful statement from the Chicago-based Polish American Congress, which says on its website that it represents at least 10 million Americans of Polish descent and origin.
"The Polish American Congress is shocked by the slanderous analogy used by Ohio State University President Gordon Gee and his slur on the military of a nation that has been fighting valiantly and effectively alongside the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan," the group said in its statement released Thursday.
"We are dismayed by the bigotry and ignorance expressed by the President of such a large and prominent American university," the congress went on to say.
Gee realized he'd made a gaffe as nervous laughter arose in his audience of a couple hundred listeners at a Columbus Metropolitan Club monthly forum. He said, "Oh, never mind, who did I embarrass now?" and added, a moment later: "I'll have to raise money for Poland now."
He may have been referring to the aftermath of a wisecrack that got him into trouble in November 2010, when he boasted that Ohio State's football schedule didn't include teams on a par with the "Little Sisters of the Poor." An apologetic Gee later sent a personal check to the real Little Sisters of the Poor in northwest Ohio and followed up with a visit to the nuns months later.
The Polish American Congress said thanks but no thanks to any contribution from the Ohio State president.
"Poland not only has a capable military, but also is strong economically and does not need money being raised for it," the group said.
Susanne Lotarski, a spokeswoman for the congress, said Friday she was consulting with its executive committee on how to respond to Gee's apology.