Gabel on campus climate: ‘We have work to do’

Gabel also discussed hiring the next provost and communicating with students about disciplined faculty.

President Joan Gabel fields questions in her office in Morrill Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Mrunal Zambre

President Joan Gabel fields questions in her office in Morrill Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Dylan Anderson

President Joan Gabel discussed hiring the next provost, campus climate and the undefeated Gopher football team in a sit-down with the Minnesota Daily this week.  

[The Gopher football team has] not lost since you became University president. How much credit do you take for their success?

Literally zero. But I’m a huge fan, and I’m having a great time. The more I get to know about the program, the more I like it. Not just because they’re winning, because I think that they’re very committed to winning the right way. They have a very high GPA, they have a really good graduation rate. They really support each other. The coach is teaching them to be winners in the broadest sense of that word, not just on the field. I think it’s a wonderful program, and I’m very glad that they’re winning.

So all four candidates for executive vice president and provost have visited the University and participated in public forums. You’re the one that makes the final decision on the hire. What goes into that decision?

The provost role — it’s a role I know very well — is in many ways, is at least one of the most integrated leadership positions because they both … are the right hand of the president, but they’re also the chief academic officer for the entirety of the faculty. I know from personal experience how distributed that role is. As a result of that, the feedback is highly distributed. … The feedback has to be equally distributed. It may be the widest feedback loop for hire that we do. … So first we make sure a lot of different people met with each candidate. We have asked each of those groups … to provide their feedback. We have all that feedback. … The bulk of it is in and more synthesizing it into specific themes and outlier remarks. I should get that in the next day or two. I take my own notes, I talked to some of the references … and then you look for the person that has the best talent skills and had the highest feedback.

When do you anticipate making a hire?

I anticipate extending an offer I would say imminently, probably within the next seven-day week. That’s the goal. … It can take a bit of time to have someone to announce between the time the offer is extended and when the announcement is made.

The Board of Regents was presented with survey results about campus climate last week. The University scores similar to other schools with students of color generally recording a lower sense of belonging when compared to white peers. What is the first step in addressing this?

We also look at a variety of other tools in addition to the national surveys that we participate in. … Then I deploy the teams within student affairs and the teams within [the Office of Equity and Diversity] to think about what the next steps would be in terms of projects. There’s also a sort of a cycle that we’re in the middle of right now for national best practice conferences … where we then compare what everyone else is doing. … We pick which of those things, those suggested action items, we might implement. They would ramp up in the spring and be online in the fall. I don’t know what all of those would be yet, but we’re not satisfied with those results. We’re eager to be ahead of our peers not just out of a sense of competition, but because we think we have all of the components here to be better at this on behalf of our students and as an attraction for our students. So, we have work to do.

Two Humphrey School of Public Affairs professors disciplined after a University investigation found they “more likely than not” violated sexual harassment policy have returned to teaching this semester. Some Humphrey students feel the school should have been more transparent about this earlier in the process. What responsibility does the University have to communicate to students about faculty or staff who have been disciplined for violating University policy?

It is a very difficult effort to navigate. It is a reality that a lot of the time it is our students who make us aware of the bad acts that the very, very small minority of our faculty occasionally execute or manifest. They bring it to our attention, and we act as you can see that these faculty members were disciplined. It becomes a [human resources] process when that happens, which has legal constraints in terms of what we can discuss and what we can’t discuss, sometimes frustratingly so for those of us who believe in transparency and accountability and want to build relationships of trust. That is very difficult to do … when you’re legally required to withhold information.

Not everything that the students have expressed distress about in this case was covered by that HR process. And in candor, there probably could have been more communication. I think the thinking was at the time that if … the discipline is fulfilled, then we start to restore, and one can be brought back, if one fulfills their punishment. It is a social standard that many of us believe in. But it’s one thing to believe in it, it’s another to sit side-by-side with it, and we can understand why that would make some people feel uncomfortable.

I believe that the dean and the leadership team and the faculty involved are really working hard to try to restore any sense of unfairness or unease that may have occurred by virtue of how the communication was handled at the time, but also at the same time, respect the process and that the discipline was fulfilled and that it’s time to move to the next phase of everyone’s relationship.

So last week, you updated regents about what you’ve been doing to fulfill a charge to reckon with the University’s history in ways short of renaming. At least one regent believes that the faculty task force report about renaming needs to be peer-reviewed before you can fulfill that charge. What, if any, review do you feel is necessary before you do that?

I’ve declined to undertake a peer review unless the board charges me to do so, because peer review is for a specific set of circumstances around scholarly work, most notably publication. This was a piece that was requested by the faculty who worked as volunteers, in order for the board to receive further information and inform a decision-making process. … In my mind, one would only institute a peer-review process, if there were indicia of bad intent. I see zero indicia of bad intent. On the contrary, I see a group of faculty, staff and students who, as volunteers, worked very hard to try to help us with both reckoning and reconciliation of a very complicated institution history.

Last week, regents directed you to explore other options to handle dining services for the University. A student representative to the board mentioned that in signing a contract with companies like Aramark, the University is condoning their politics. How do you think political actions taken by companies the University signs contracts with should be considered when deciding whether or not to work with them? 

I think they should be considered. I think what we care about, who we work with, and who we do business with, I think that we would need more information in this particular case. … We’re very, very careful stewards of our resources. And we care a lot about how much we pay for things, but that’s in a context of our service mission. And so we would take politics in general into consideration. In this particular case, I don’t know enough about the allegation in order to give an opinion or have an opinion as to whether this political framework would affect the decision.