Introducing Number 17: Joan Gabel
On July 1, the University of Minnesota's first female president will take the helm.
If one thing became clear during Joan Gabel's myriad public forums and interviews, it’s that the U’s incoming president is cool under pressure. She’s also funny, eloquent, and quick on her feet.
Gabel comes to the U with impressive credentials, having most recently served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina. Raised in Atlanta, she earned a bachelor’s in philosophy from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, graduated cum laude from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1993, and worked as an attorney at a private firm before becoming a professor at Georgia State University in 1996. She later taught and served as a department chair at Florida State University and was dean of the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. She was editor in chief of the American Business Law Journal.
Asked during a public forum in December how it would feel to be the first woman president in the U’s 168-year history, she relayed details from a life of firsts. She was the first woman dean at Missouri’s college of business and the first woman provost at South Carolina. “It’s a fact. You acknowledge it,” she said. “But, I think what’s also important is, what do you do once you’re in the job? Five minutes after you start, it’s about the work.”
Gabel was unanimously selected by the Board of Regents on December 18, after being named the sole finalist for the job. She will earn a base salary of $640,000 under a five-year contract. That’s slightly more than is paid current President Eric Kaler, whose base salary is $625,000. She will also receive supplemental retirement contributions and may earn performance bonuses. Gabel’s husband, Gary Gabel, is a K-12 administrator. They have three children: a daughter who lives in Seattle, a son in college, and another son in high school. The Gabels will live at Eastcliff.
During the interview process, Gabel listed priorities including increasing campus diversity, developing new partnerships and revenue sources, exploring innovations like online learning, making the most of the U’s five-campus system, and better articulating to the public the importance of the U’s research and deep well of expertise. But, describing herself as a collaborator, she also said she wants to get to know the U before establishing big, overarching goals.
Asked whether she would “get” Minnesotans, she explained that her father worked for the federal government and the family moved a lot. “I’m highly adaptable as a result of that experience,” she said, adding that she enjoys learning about new places and cultures. “I want to get you. And I’m studying you,” she said to audience laughter.
Reached by email after she accepted the position, Gabel expressed great admiration for the U. “Higher education is changing across the country, but the University of Minnesota is strong,” she wrote. “Its research, discovery, and outreach are of the highest quality and make a tremendous contribution to the lives of Minnesotans and the economy of the state. At the same time, educational excellence across the five campuses continues to develop future leaders and field-shaping experts. This institution can and will build upon its legacy while also embracing what the future holds—and that is incredibly exciting.
“There is so much to be proud of at the University of Minnesota and its supporters have made all of the difference. I’m honored to become a member of the University community and carry on this tradition.” Calling the passion of alumni, friends, and donors one of the U’s greatest strengths, she added, “I look forward to plugging in so we can explore new opportunities for partnership.”
Minnesota Alumni looks forward to sitting down with Gabel after she takes office. Keep an eye out for a profile in the Fall issue.