Hundreds of University of Minnesota students, staff and faculty lined the sidewalk outside the McNamara Alumni Center shortly after Joan Gabel accepted the ceremonial mace and medallion, signifying her installment as the university’s 17th president.
The line of people stretched all the way to the steps leading up to Northrop Plaza.
Standing along the sidewalk ready to cheer on the new president as she walked by was Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research administration.
“I think she’s excited about our research enterprise and our research endeavors,” said Webb. “And for us in research, that’s a very big deal.”
Webb said Gabel also brings a lot of new energy and a commitment to helping students get the most out of their time at the University. Gabel is now the first woman to lead the school since it was founded 168 years ago. Webb said she’s happy about that.
“But what I’m really excited about is what she brings to the table,” she said. “Not whether she’s female or male.”
Others along the president’s processional route were there to greet Gabel with a different message. Several dozen union members from AFSCME and the Teamsters lined the route with signs urging the new president to approve contracts with better wages for workers.
Brian Aldes of Teamsters Local 320 said he’s been trying to sit down with Gabel to discuss a number of contract changes which would mean higher pay for union workers, some of whom work in food services at the school. But he said Gabel has refused to talk while contract negotiations are in progress.
“I’ll be honest with you,” said Aldes. “We have about 200 collective bargaining agreements in our local union and I don’t have a single employer that I can’t meet with, during or not during our contract negotiations. This is the only one.”
Aldes and a few dozen of the blue shirted Teamsters got a brief visit from Gov. Tim Walz, who took part in the installation ceremony. Before he left campus, Walz shook hands with union members, took pictures with them and expressed his support for them.
A little farther down the sidewalk, Barbara Kappler, assistant dean of international student and scholar services, was all smiles. Kappler has had a chance to observe Gabel in action. And she likes what she sees.
“I’ve seen her at convocation as well as in a meeting on strategic enrollment,” said Kappler. “And she’s very energetic. She has a great ability and willingness to be very conversational and to share her thoughts.”
When Gabel and her husband Gary came walking down the street right in front of Kappler and her co-workers, the new president waved and thanked the crowd for their enthusiastic welcome, as the U of M marching band provided a rhythmic and raucous soundtrack.
The inaugural procession continued on to the steps of Northrop Auditorium. Standing on the plaza, Jael Kerandi prepared to introduce Gabel to the throng of people who’ve gathered near Northrop. Kerandi is a junior at the Carlson School of Management and vice president of the Minnesota Student Association.
Kerandi said she’s confident the incoming president has a handle on the issues students are most concerned about.
“I know there’s sexual misconduct on our campus. I know there’s continuous talk of accessibility and affordability to the University,” said Kerandi. “All of which we’ve had extensive conversations with her and received very positive response about how we want to plan to go about that in the future.”
As she delivered her inaugural address, Gabel looked over the crowd and down the mall stretching down to Coffman Memorial Union.
“I wish each of you could stand here and take in this incredible view,” she said. “ I see all of you.”
Gabel spent much of her address praising the school’s former leaders and famous alums, like Josie Johnson, the first African American University Regent. But Gabel also looked forward. She said the University’s story is still being written.
“I see this emerging story as a chapter in a book with many pages. And each day we fill a page with acts of excellence and meaning,” said Gabel. “Ours is a story that will be written by our commitment to a community and a culture that is inclusive and shaped by equity, diversity and dignity of people and ideas.”