Geoffrey Orsak "kindest man on the planet," writes mother-in-law

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Last night I received an email from Gretchen Bohnert of Houston in reply to my recent blog entry about the mysterious and sudden dismissal of University of Tulsa President Geoffrey Orsak after only 74 days in office. Mrs. Bohnert is the mother of Orsak's wife Cate, and she wrote to thank me for noting the impact of Orsak's firing on his wife, a psychiatrist who left behind a successful career in Dallas so that her husband could serve as TU's president and who now is uprooted once again.

Mrs. Bohnert wanted me to know more about her daughter and son-in-law, about the solid character and accomplishments of these two people who have had their lives turned upside down, "the people that TU so precipitously fired," as she put it. With her permission, I'm sharing Mrs. Bohnert's thoughts with you.

She offered only one brief remark about the firing itself. As a retired employment lawyer and a former Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Houston, she writes that she is "appalled" at how TU dealt with the firing. "A committee of first-year law students could have handled this matter more equitably and sensitively."

Mrs. Bohnert concluded the note with praise for those connected with Holland Hall (where the Orsaks' young children were starting school) and the University of Tulsa who showed special kindness and consideration to the Orsak family during this tough time.

Here is her email in full:

I am Cate Bohnert Orsak's mother and I want to thank you for mentioning that Geoff's firing uprooted a professional spouse. I would like to tell you more about Cate and Geoff.

Cate graduated first in her class at The Kinkaid School in Houston. While at Kinkaid she was president of KOCI, a club formed to offer Kinkaidians the opportunity to work with disadvantaged kids. She spent her Sat. mornings playing softball with blind kids and others similarly situated. She was the first freshman girl to make the varsity in tennis. She went on to Yale where she was an active volunteer at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, working with college students who were admitted to the psych unit. After Yale, she went to Baylor Med School here in Houston. She took her psychiatric residency at George Washington U. in D.C., where she was chief resident. She then was employed full time as an asst. professor in psychiatry at Georgetown Med School. When Geoff was hired at SMU, she was employed as an asst. professor at Southwestern Med School, eventually becoming a full professor. She was Chief of Mental Services for north Texas with the V.A. One year she was named "Professor of the Year." She resigned this position to go to Tulsa.

Geoff is the kindest man on the planet, in addition to being so brilliant. While a student at Rice, he rescued a cat who was hit by a car in front of his garage apartment. Though he was subsisting on grants and loans, he paid over $800 to get the cat surgery, and then adopted her. During his time at SMU, one of his staff members died. He went to the trustees and persuaded them to give the children full scholarships to SMU. While a Dean at SMU, he found time to spearhead a building drive for the DaVinci pre-school where his son Peter was a student. DaVinci now has a handsome new facility. When Peter went on to St. Mark's, Geoff took his turn behind the steam table at lunch, making sure the boys took a spoonful of veggies.

Cate and Geoff's daughter Mary was a student at Hockaday. Geoff co-coached her basketball team for several years. They eventually were league champions. Cate organized and coached Mary's volleyball team for several years, also to a winning season. Cate taught Sunday school for several years in Dallas.

These are the people that the TU trustees so precipitously fired. As a former Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Houston and an employment lawyer, I am appalled. A committee of first-year law students could have handled this matter more equitably and sensitively. As a grandparent, I am heartsick.

There were many kind people in Tulsa, particularly the teachers and coaches at Holland Hall. Parents expressed their regrets when the Orsaks left. An art restorer at TU helped repair a painting damaged in the move to Tulsa. A tennis coach at TU helped Cate and the children with their tennis strokes. Most importantly, "Miss Camey", the housekeeper at the Skelly House, who was unfailingly cheerful and professional, even as she went about washing every window in that very large residence.

Thank you for your time.

Very sincerely,

Gretchen Bohnert

Many thanks to Mrs. Bohnert for taking the time to write and allowing me to share her thoughts with BatesLine readers.

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Cee said:

It is unlikely that the University of Tulsa "precipitously fired" Geoff Orsak; this event brings unwelcomed publicity to the university as well as Dr. Orsak. I am sure the members of the Board of Trustees are unhappy about having to take this action; it calls to question their judgement in choosing Geoff Orsak for the presidency of the university.

As for Mrs. Bohnert's comments about her daughter, Cate Orsak's life story and qualifications are not the concern of TU's Board of Trustees. She choose to come to Tulsa because of the opportunity the move afforded her husband. TU was unlikely to have had a contract with her; I do not recall any announcement that she was made a tenured member of the TU faculty. The Board of Trustees are responsible to the university community; most importantly, they must protect the students, faculty, staff, and reputation of the institution from questionable actions by individuals inside and outside the university.

As for the list of activities in support of their children, I ask "Is that all?" We have donated far more time and effort in support of our own and other children. They are not that "special"; they are just parents doing what they should be doing. Better yet, what have they done for children who are not their own? Anything?

While I feel very sorry for the position Cate Orsak and the children are in, it is the fault of Geoff Orsak - NOT the University of Tulsa. Mrs. Bohnert should place the blame where it is due. As a retired attorney, she should understand the liability issues for the university should her son-in-law have another lapse in judgement and endanger or expose the university's students to an inappropriate situation.

I do hope the Orsaks find a place where they can settle down and put this chapter in their lives behind them just like the university must do. With her credentials, Cate Orsak will have no trouble reestablishing her practice. I am sure everyone is sorry for the situation she is now in and wishes her well in her future endeavors.

Cee, you write as if you have some direct knowledge when you write "it is the fault of Geoff Orsak." What exactly was the lapse in judgment that, were it repeated, might "endanger or expose the university's students to an inappropriate situation"?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 24, 2012 11:01 PM.

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