Editorial: Joan Gabel a great finalist for next UMN President

Following a limited engagement at the Coffman Theater, the sole finalist seems to be the right fit as Eric Kaler’s successor.

Daily Editorial Board

It’s time for a fresh perspective on campus.

Now, as University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler prepares to step down in July, we have an opportunity for just that — a new voice leading the University.

The Board of Regents announced Joan Gabel, provost at the University of South Carolina, as the sole finalist in the University’s search for a new president last week. In the days following the announcement, she’s emphasized the importance of service, research and teaching. Just as important, if chosen Gabel will be the first woman president at the University.

Gabel addressed an audience during an open house and Q&A forum, with student representation noticeably lacking, possibly due to the forum’s mid-weekday proximity to finals. Recognizing time constraints, there should be more accessible options provided for students to engage with prospective finalists, outside of one of the busiest weeks in the semester.

Although students were nearly absent to hear Gabel’s student-centered remarks, her opening statements still leave us hopeful. Gabel indicated her desire for a president to be collaborative and inclusive to all perspectives. She seems to understand that our communities on campus are important to students, and should have a large stake in decisions that affects them.

She also encouraged diversity with the investment in a chief diversity officer for each college and major University branch. The implementation of CDOs would create strong pipelines from colleges to a diversity board, as well as create an atmosphere that allows students and faculty to have ongoing conversations about diversity and inclusion. We wholeheartedly agree with the implementation of this body, and are looking forward to seeing this develop if she is selected.

We also would like to draw focus to her initiatives surrounding mental health. Gabel expressed the need to hire more counselors, change the methodology for setting up mental health appointments, encourage peer-support and provide awareness training for faculty. We cannot agree more.

Furthermore, Gabel indicated that she wanted to take a boots-on-the-ground approach with students and be more involved with student government leaders, as well as those who do not want to extend themselves in such an official manner. It is our understanding that she seems to grasp the importance of being engaged with students and listening to their voices. Her eagerness to put that as a priority is commendable, and if selected, is something we hope will be seen through.

We believe the ability and effort to truly understand students and how to engage with them is one of the most important aspects of the position. We hope this is the case if Gabel is selected — from her limited time speaking on campus, the prospect of this seems promising.

We have had our qualms with the search process and the inclusion of only two students tasked with representing an incredibly diverse and large student body. We feel the student body was subsequently stripped of further investigative ability and renders the time in between finalist selection and the final appointment as rather arbitrary – the implication of a lone finalist almost guarantees their selection.

Regardless of this, from the limited evidence gathered from her visit on the Twin Cities campus, we believe Gabel is a great fit as our University’s next president. Overall, we feel a great candidate has been selected and hope that, if selected, she will prove to be the correct choice as well.