New U of M president takes part in first board meeting, talks plans for future

Thursday marked the first Board of Regents meeting for the new University of Minnesota president, who is making history becoming the university’s first-ever female president.

Joan Gabel was hired last year to replace Eric Kaler who stepped down as president this summer after eight years with the school.

Gabel says she was able to hit the ground running, a “soft landing” she calls it, because she spent a lot of weekends at the university in the six months since she was hired.

"It is now my great pleasure to welcome President Gabel, who I believe is in the 11th day of her presidency," said Ken Powell, board chair.

Sitting through her first meeting as president with the Board of Regents, Joan Gabel understood the history.

"I’m also extremely honored and very humbled to be only the 17th person to hold the position of president of the University of Minnesota in our nearly 170 year history," she said.

There haven’t been many and those before her were all men. But she deflected any attention on breaking a Gopher glass ceiling to the realities ahead, both educational and economic.

"We recognize these national trends, and we know that there’s no institution that is immune from these headwinds," said Gabel.

Her focus now is on trying to keep tuition increases down by running leaner without sacrificing quality. She’s already reorganized the president’s office to have one team focused on running the university and another focused on strategy for the future.

She says another immediate priority increasing focus on mental well-being of students.

"It is epidemic," said Gabel, "legitimately referred to as a crisis in the sense that a very distinct percentage, varies from institution to institution, but often well over 40 percent of our students arrive on campus with a mental health diagnosis."

Gabel also is focused on the inclusion of a lot of work on the campus climate. She also praised new Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, the former Vikings COO, saying she’s talked to him on the phone, and they share a lot of values.