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U president finalist Joan Gabel begins statewide tour

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Joan T. A. Gabel smiles after she receives a round of applause.
Joan Gabel, the sole finalist for president of the University of Minnesota, smiles at a forum at Coffman Memorial Union in Minneapolis Monday.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

Dozens of University of Minnesota students, faculty and staff warmly welcomed Joan Gabel to the Twin Cities campus, as the finalist for the president's job began a weeklong tour of U campuses.  

There was a buzz at Coffman Student Union Monday as Gabel went around the room greeting students, staff and faculty. 

There were students who had questions about tuition and university investments, there were faculty and staff with questions about the university's direction and academics, as well as a handful of politicians wanting to meet the person who could be making financial pitches to the Minnesota Legislature for the next several years.

"Well, it's exciting to have our most qualified candidate that came through as a woman," said state Rep. Connie Bernardy, the incoming chair of the House higher education committee.

A U grad and Democrat from New Brighton, Bernardy said Gabel, a provost at the University of South Carolina, made a good impression.

"The fact that she focuses on service, research and teaching, those are fundamental in a great university and I hope we can be partners in creating that kind of system as well as the kind of university that will really make Minnesota strong."

Joan T. A. Gabel answers questions written by the public
Joan Gabel answers questions during the forum.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

During a public forum, Gabel said the University is already well positioned in research and partnerships, on top of a good reputation for academics. She sees the role of the next president as improving on those strengths.

"I think that there are tremendous opportunities to address what system might be in terms of meeting different gaps across the state, achievement gaps, inclusion gaps, and what that could mean in terms of instruction and in terms of research, discovery and service," Gabel said.

Magdalena Cruz Ramirez, a senior software engineer at the U's office of information technology, appreciated the informal Q&A to see how Gabel would perform. 

"And also how she behaves in front of so many people of different backgrounds, and my impression was that she did a great job answering every single question."

Gabel visits Morris and Crookston Wednesday, then stops in Duluth and Rochester on Thursday. Her final interview is on Friday with the Board of Regents, which is expected to make a decision whether to extend an offer to Gabel in the next few weeks.