Welcome to Minnesota, Joan Gabel. Today and for the next four days, the sole finalist for the presidency of the University of Minnesota will be put through her paces by scores of that institution’s stakeholders, as the Board of Regents prepares to select a successor to retiring President Eric Kaler as soon as Friday.
Gabel, 50, a University of South Carolina provost with a business law background, has already won over the 23-member search advisory committee that screened a pool of 67 applicants, interviewing 10 of them. Gabel was the committee’s favorite among three semifinalists recommended to the Board of Regents.
Regents and the search committee reportedly were impressed with her background in both law and the academy, her familiarity with business, her experience in strategic planning and fundraising, and her grasp of the University of Minnesota’s leadership needs. Many would also welcome the chance to install the first woman in the U’s presidency.
Gabel was also the only candidate willing to publicly contend with other candidates for the post. The other two semifinalists agreed to go public only as the sole finalist.
That’s disappointing to some Minnesotans, who wanted to judge for themselves among several candidates. But it’s also the reality of high-level hiring in higher education. Someone who is already a university president or provost (the chief academic officer) is understandably unwilling to put that institution on notice that he or she is considering a departure unless chances are good that the departure is imminent.
Had the regents insisted on three publicly named finalists, a second search likely would have been required, and the size and quality of the candidate pool likely would have diminished. That would not have been in this state’s interests. The Legislature should review state statutes to ensure that the law’s disclosure requirements don’t impede Minnesota’s higher education institutions as they compete for top executive talent.
Though the U is down to one finalist, the public hasn’t been shut out of the screening process. In September, the search committee conducted more than a dozen listening sessions among university constituencies and invited public input about the leadership qualities they should seek. (We provided ours in a Sept. 30 editorial.) Gabel’s schedule this week includes several forums that are open to the public; a schedule can be found at president-search.umn.edu/finalist. The regents plan to collect feedback from forum participants before a final interview with Gabel on Friday.
Gabel comes to Minnesota as a sole finalist, not as president-elect. Minnesotans can still begin to judge her ability to articulate a compelling vision for a complex institution, and to assemble and implement a comprehensive strategic plan to make that vision a reality.
Welcome, Provost Gabel. Have a great week.