Gordon Gee earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Utah in 1968 and a law degree and doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1971 and 1972, respectively. At Columbia, he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and Kellogg Fellow.
After his graduate work at Columbia, Gee returned to the University of Utah, serving as assistant law dean from 1973 to 1974. He was a judicial fellow and senior staff assistant in the chambers of the Chief Justice of the United States from 1974 to 1975, and associate law dean and professor of law in the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University from 1975 to 1979.
He was dean and professor of law in the College of Law at West Virginia University from 1979 to 1981. In 1981, at age 37, Gee became one of the country's youngest college presidents when he assumed leadership of West Virginia University. He became president of the University of Colorado in 1985, and the Ohio State University in 1990. He was elected president of Brown University on June 27, 1997 by a unanimous vote of the Brown Corporation, the University's governing body, and took office on January 6, 1998.
President Gee identified among his goals enhancing graduate education at Brown and furthering the idea of the institution as a "private University with a public purpose." In February 2000 Gordon Gee resigned as president to become chancellor of Vanderbilt University.