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UMN community reacts to Gabel’s departure, reflects on tenure

President Joan Gabel announced April 3 she is leaving the University of Minnesota to become chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh.
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel. Photo courtesy of Eric Miller.

President Joan Gabel announced April 3 she will be stepping down as president of the University of Minnesota after this spring semester, ending a presidency influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and rising inflation.

Gabel is leaving Minnesota to serve as the University of Pittsburgh’s next chancellor.

In 2019, Gabel started as the University’s first woman president. Over the past year, Gabel has been criticized for aspects of her most recent contract and her decision to accept a position on Securian Financial’s board of directors, from which she later resigned.

A survey the Minnesota Daily sent out to University community members, including students, staff, faculty and alumni, reflected mixed reactions to Gabel’s time in Minnesota.

This survey is not statistically significant because of the sample size and collection method. The survey should be considered a large questionnaire and not representative of the entire University community.

A total of 528 University community members completed the survey. About half of the respondents were students and about one-third were staff. The remaining respondents included faculty and alumni.

Respondents were asked several questions about their thoughts and feelings on aspects of Gabel’s performance and leadership over nearly four years.

When asked to rate Gabel’s overall performance as president on a scale of 1 to 5, with one being the lowest rating and five being the highest, the majority of respondents gave Gabel a rating of 2. About one-fourth rated a 3 and about 5% answered with the highest rating.

Respondents overall tended to view Gabel’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic better than her overall performance or her handling of campus safety issues and transparency. About half of the respondents gave her a rating of 3 or 4 for her pandemic response.

On the other hand, about half of the respondents gave her a rating of 1 or 2 for her handling of campus safety. Nearly half of the respondents rated her 1 in transparency.

Gabel has been criticized for her salary increase in December 2021, especially after tuition increased 3.5% for the 2022-23 academic year. When the Board of Regents approved her new contract, board members said the salary increase would put her in the median of what Big Ten presidents make.

Some survey respondents said they thought Gabel was “greedy” and “money hungry.”

“I didn’t really do a whole lot of research myself, but I have heard a lot of negative things about her taking a lot of money for her own benefit, raising her salary and not really adding a lot of value to the school as a whole,” Steph Robertson, a senior studying strategic communications said.

However, some community members said this is too harsh of a characterization.

“She’s obviously leaving for more money, but people are sh****** on her more than they need to because she is a woman,” Lizzy Hokanson, a senior studying mechanical engineering, said. “Would the same thing happen with a guy leaving for more money? I don’t know.”

Many survey respondents also said they did not think she contributed much to the University during her tenure.

Peter Fitterer, a senior studying mechanical engineering, said he does not think he has seen noticeable changes at the University since Gabel began her term. Hokanson agreed. As seniors, they were freshmen the same year Gabel became president.

However, some survey respondents had relatively glowing remarks about her contributions, saying she provided steady leadership, kept the University community as safe as possible during the pandemic and showed more awareness of safety issues than previous presidents.

Overall, most respondents said they are not upset that Gabel is leaving.

About one-fifth of respondents said they are disappointed Gabel is leaving the University, while about one-third said they are optimistic about the future following her departure.

Several respondents said they hope the next president focuses on continuing to improve safety, lowering tuition, increasing transparency and being more in touch with students.

The Board of Regents met on Thursday morning to discuss the process of choosing the University’s interim president following Gabel’s departure as well as required qualities for the interim. The board will meet again Monday afternoon to continue discussions.

“I hope that the next president sees more of the students and what the students want and need,” said Braylin Pantila, a freshman in computer science.

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