Regents approve $640,000 salary for new University of Minnesota president

Joan T. A. Gabel
Joan T. A. Gabel answers questions written by the public at a forum Dec. 10, 2018. Gabel was chosen by the regents to be the new president of the university.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

Updated: 6:33 p.m. | Posted: 11:14 a.m.

University of Minnesota regents on Tuesday unanimously approved Joan Gabel to be the university's new president.

Gabel, 50, is provost at the University of South Carolina. She was the sole finalist for the Minnesota job and will be the university's first female president.

An administrator at schools in Missouri and Florida before South Carolina, Gabel is viewed as a consensus builder but also someone willing to confront problems.

"She doesn't back down from things that most people don't like to deal with," said Valinda Littlefield, a history professor at the University of South Carolina who said she admires Gabel.

"She's the type of person that looks for answers as opposed to looking at you, saying, 'That's been tried. We're not going to try that again.' That's not the type of person she is."

In public interviews for the job last week, Gabel spoke about the need to address student debt and address public safety concerns.

Gabel, a philosophy major, was also asked about the liberal arts, an area of study that has suffered drops in enrollment recently. She said companies are seeking the critical thinking skills that come from a liberal arts education.

Gabel succeeds Eric Kaler, whose last day is June 30. He will take a faculty position in the University's chemical engineering and materials sciences department and will serve temporarily as president emeritus. He took office as the U's 16th president in 2011.

Salary-wise, Gabel will make more than Kaler, who now pulls in $625,000 per year. Her retirement package is sweeter than Kaler's was in his first year. Kaler's retirement contribution was $50,000 in his first two years on the job. Gabel will get a $150,000 retirement contribution in her first year, which will grow to $165,000 by her fifth year.

In subsequent salary negotiations, Kaler's yearly retirement contributions grew over time to $225,000 this year and $325,000 in the 2019-2020 school year.

Several students came to watch the board meeting, several had followed the process closely.

Catalina Anampa, a junior majoring in sociology, served on the search committee and said the university "landed the perfect person for this job" with a focus on students.

"We have seen it at her previous jobs, through the work she's done at the University of South Carolina engaging with students who aren't just student government leaders," Anampa said.

Gabel has been relatively careful in saying what her priorities will be, saying she'd prefer to get a better feel for the job and the place before wading into any huge priorities. But she did say that looking at how the university system's five campuses function together is top of mind, especially after her trip across the state last week.

"I think each campus brings such wonderful unique attributes, such wonderful regional impact and such an opportunity for the state as a whole. And then how that makes the university able to impact the world," Gabel said. "But how you make that happen, how you keep that going, how people work together to ensure that — I see that as something we would work very actively on."

Gabel has said she'll work on different revenue possibilities and make diversifying the student body and university faculty a priority.

Regent Peggy Lucas said she was thrilled to hire Gabel.

"I think this is the most important vote we will take in our tenure and maybe in our life. The enthusiasm around the table and all the underlying good feelings is fantastic," Lucas said.

Regent Richard Beeson and Vice President for University Relations Matt Kramer will lead a team to guide the university's transition from one president to the next.

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