West Virginia University President Gordon Gee apologized on Twitter Sunday after a photo of the president maskless in a convenience store went viral.
Three pictures of Gee shopping surfaced on Twitter Sunday afternoon, all showing Gee maskless while walking through aisles. Gee can be seen carrying a cloth disposable mask in one photo.
Gee responded to the online backlash and wrote in a Twitter post later Sunday night he was sorry for not upholding the standards set by the university.
“Earlier I was shopping and did not keep my mask on for the entirety of my time in the store. As president, I must hold myself to the highest of standards and set the very best example for our University. In this instance, I did not do that,” Gee wrote. “As I have asked you to do the right things, so must you expect me to do the same. I apologize for the error in judgment and commit that it will not happen again.”
The original post had more than 900 likes and 200 retweets as of Monday.
WVU students took issue with the photos as Gee was violating Gov. Jim Justice’s executive order on mandatory mask-wearing in indoor spaces, noting that students have been suspended for breaking the university’s guidelines.
WVU suspended 29 students for COVID-19-related violations on Sept. 6 following a weekend party at an unaffiliated fraternity, where a member who tested positive and was ordered to isolate attended the gathering, according to a news release from the university.
WVU soon after the incident canceled all in-person undergraduate courses until Sept. 25 following a rise in positive cases at the Morgantown campus. Monongalia County remains the only West Virginia county in the red on the state’s color-coded reopening map, with 35.30 positive cases per 100,000 residents being reported as of Monday evening.
Gee’s maskless photos and the ensuing backlash encapsulated the growing tension on WVU’s campus, as students who just paid nonrefundable housing, tuition and course fees are left wondering if in-person courses will return this fall; and while the university continues to be frustrated with large unmasked gatherings, Gee wrote to the campus community following the announcement that school would go online.
“I understand your perspective, and am frustrated, too. While some may argue that community spread was inevitable with students returning to Morgantown, I do not believe that to be true,” Gee wrote. “If the safety protocols had been followed and large gatherings had not been held by students with reckless disregard of their fellow students and community members, we may not be in this situation.”