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New U of M head to focus on budget and student health

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U of M President Gabel delivers her first report to the Board of Regents.
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel delivers her first report to the Board of Regents on Thursday.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Updated 3:56 p.m. | Posted 11:54 a.m.

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel
New University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

The new president of the University of Minnesota is ready to hit the ground running.

Joan Gabel gave her first report as president to the university board of regents on Thursday.

She told regents she is ready to take leaps where needed and incremental steps when necessary to advance the mission of the university.

Gabel is 11 days into the job of president. She's the first woman to hold the position at the University of Minnesota since it was founded in 1851. She called it a historic moment that she was honored and humbled to be a part of. 

"It's very important that anyone, who might not see themselves reflected in the position or goal that they aspire to achieve, know that it's possible for them," Gabel said. "I hope that I'm showing that not only to women and girls on campus and in the community, but anyone who doesn't see themselves reflected in what it is they hope to achieve."  

When asked what she will focus on in her first months, Gabel talked about making effective use of the institution's budget and investing in student well-being. 

"For our students, we're very focused on their academic success and all the ongoing efforts, but we're also focused on their well-being. And we are very focused on campus inclusion. We are representative across the state as an example of what it means to create a climate where we meet people where they are and set them up for success," Gabel said. 

The U's new president made particular note of the focus she wants to bring to student mental health. She said she's done a lot of personal education and attended conferences to learn about the topic.

"It is epidemic, legitimately referred to as a crisis," Gabel said. "Often well over 40 percent of our students arrive on campus with a mental health diagnosis. And so, that's a lot more than just care for the diagnosis as it may be. It's developing a climate where students who have challenges — mental health and otherwise — can either get what they need on campus or we can direct them to where they can get it." 

As she prepared to take over the university presidency, she talked with leaders across the state.

"Those I've spoken to conveyed their passion and love for this university, what the U has meant to them and often to generations of their families, and how much pride they have in our system, our outreach and discovery, and our impact across the entire state and what that represents. It was incredibly inspiring," said Gabel.

Gabel told regents higher education nationwide faces challenges to cut costs and be more relevant.

"We recognize these national trends and we know that there's no institution that is immune from these headwinds, but I can affirm that our university and our state are prepared to meet these challenges and advance during this very important time," said Gabel.

The University of Minnesota's annual operating budget is $3.8 billion. About $650 million of that is funding from the state.  

Gabel will oversee a system of five campuses across the state with nearly 67,000 students and 27,000 faculty and staff.

She succeeds Eric Kaler as university president. She was previously provost at the University of South Carolina. The University of Minnesota regents unanimously approved her appointment last December.  

She will make more than her predecessor, with a board-approved salary of $625,000 per year.