Gabel talks UMPD’s involvement in policing Daunte Wright protests

The University president also discussed the possibility of renaming campus buildings in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.


Abbey Machtig

President Joan Gabel poses for a portrait over Zoom on Thursday, Oct. 15.

by Abbey Machtig

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel discussed the recent police killing of Daunte Wright and responded to concerns about the campus police department’s involvement in the following protests in a virtual interview with the Minnesota Daily Wednesday.

Gabel also said the University’s Board of Regents would be revisiting conversations around renaming campus buildings this summer and discussed the possibility of requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester.

University of Minnesota Police Department officers were present in Brooklyn Center following the police shooting and killing of Daunte Wright. Students, including the Minnesota Student Association, have voiced concerns about the University’s involvement, as you announced last year that the University would no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department aside from joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of [the University] community.” What is your response to these concerns? Does UMPD’s involvement with policing the recent protests contradict your announcement from last year?

We think there is a misunderstanding because what we did last year was cancel some of our services with MPD. The joint command that brought us to Brooklyn Center does not include MPD; they are not members. This work that we do in partnership with other agencies is a reflection of the fact that law enforcement is a community activity, and that doesn’t mean the community always likes it or agrees with it, and we are committed to evolving. In immediate crisis circumstances, it’s very common for one individual agency to need assistance from other agencies. We partner in order to make sure that we would have help when we need it, and that means we need to provide help when others need it. But my promise, and my continuing promise, is related to the Minneapolis Police Department, and we have kept that promise.

Will the University stop responding to these types of requests in the future?

We have to think about what we would do in order to make sure we could respond to a crisis. Because of this advocacy, we’re doing a review right now to think about what alternatives we have. If there’s a viable way for us to assure our ability to engage in crisis response, then we would do it. But we’re going to do what we need to do to be prepared for a crisis and then be transparent about that.

How is the process of adopting the recommendations from Dr. Cedric Alexander’s safety report progressing?

We’re in the process of composing the M Safe Implementation Team that Dr. Alexander recommended; we’ve identified the chairs. We’re also working with the Senate on the Campus Safety Committee that the Senate itself decided to do and thinking about how those two groups, the implementation group and then the Campus Safety Committee, work together. That’s students, faculty and staff advising on what of the recommendations we ultimately implement. The members of that committee are also dealing with the effects of the Daunte Wright killing and other social questions that we have right now, so that may affect some of the pacing, faster and slower.

Several colleges and universities around the country, like Brown and Rutgers University, have announced that they will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester. Is the University considering this?

In the state of Minnesota, our law is different than in some of the states where the universities have already made this announcement. For us, while the vaccine is still under emergency use authorization, we would not make it mandatory. If and when the vaccine receives full [Food and Drug Administration] approval, then we would look at the legal environment. But at this point, there’s no plan to make it mandatory because it is not allowed. Were those circumstances to change, then we would do the review and think about what that means for our campus.

Conversations around renaming campus buildings due to the histories of the people they were named after have started to reemerge around the University community. In addition to other activism from students, the student representatives to the board highlighted renaming buildings as a priority for the board in their report last month. Why do you think larger conversations around this topic have not continued among administration?

We got right to work on that when I arrived [at the University], and we actually had been consulting widely. The thing that actually caused us to hit the pause button was not the pandemic: It was George Floyd’s death. We were ready to go bringing [a policy] forward, but that felt fundamentally insensitive. There was an awareness that the circumstances of his death and the calls for action afterward highlighted for me that made me really want to think this through. Was this the right approach? Was this renaming policy a reflection of everything that we want to do around all of the questions that relate to who we are and how we honor them? I wasn’t sure that was the case.

I hit a pause button so that I could think that through and so others who work on this, not just me, could think that through. We’ve been changing what we originally proposed, and now it’s almost ready to be discussed publicly. We think the timing is that that will be ready for discussion at the summer board retreat.

What is the process of developing a renaming policy like?

We talked to stakeholder groups and governance leadership, so students, faculty and staff. We talked to, in this case, community stakeholders because there are a lot of people who are impacted and affected by this question. We did a lot of research on what other campuses were doing — and not just what they did but also what they chose not to do. There was a lot to inform us in both of those sides of the decision. And we were at the point of writing a proposal when George Floyd was killed, so that’s when we paused.