First female president in 167 years – but what is UMN really contributing to gender equality?

While appointing Joan Gabel may be a mark of progress, we can’t forget UMN’s transgressions against gender equality.

Letter to the Editor

Joan Gabel was selected by the Board of Regents to be the University of Minnesota’s next President. With a J.D. from University of Georgia and a former position as dean at Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business, Gabel will be the first female President of the University of Minnesota. While this may be a mark of progress – women accessing greater positions of decision-making in higher education – this step toward inclusivity should not distract us from the University’s transgressions against gender equality that took place this year. 

Earlier this year, the University’s Medical School was looking to fill its newly founded fellowship that was focused on reproductive health care. The fellowship would have placed a post-residency doctor in a community clinic to “learn and provide reproductive healthcare, including services for birth control, sexual transmitted infections, miscarriages and abortions,” according to Minnesota Daily reporting. One of four of its kind in the country, the fellowship would have offered an unprecedented opportunity to learn and practice reproductive healthcare. 

However, after outcry from anti-abortion student groups and threats from anti-choice lawmakers to pull University funding due to the fellowship, the fellowship was rescinded in May

After the fellowship was rescinded, Medical School Dean Jakub Tolar said the “value” of the fellowship needed to be reevaluated. However, the value is clear: access to reproductive health care is essential for gender equality. For women to access education and their preferred career path, and thus help advance gender equality, they must have access to reproductive health care. Gender equality will not be realized in our society until women can not only decide what type of reproductive care is best for them, but can access medical professionals that can provide such care.

Many women are currently unable to access adequate reproductive care, not only because of the ever-restricting abortion-related laws that are closing clinics, but because universities are cutting programs that teach these essential medical skills. Universities across the country are caving to political pressures that push to discontinue programs focused on reproductive medical care – often because of the programs’ inclusion of abortion care – leaving few adequately-trained practitioners in the field. This shortage of practitioners stagnates the movement toward gender equality, as it leaves many women with diminished reproductive care options.  

By cutting the fellowship program, the University seemed to relay the message that reproductive health care – a crucial element of gender equality – is not an important field of learning or practice. Further, the University allowed its mission of being a cutting-edge research and learning institute to be hindered by the political ideals of the few. Reproductive health care is a legitimate area of study, a legitimate need of the community and a main component of gender equality. Therefore, while the University can celebrate its first female President, it must not stop there.

This guest column has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.