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‘I think she’s fantastic’: Gabel, lone ‘U’ presidential finalist, visits Rochester

December 16, 2018
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Lone University of Minnesota presidential finalist Joan Gabel, provost at the University of South Carolina, made a swing through Rochester prior to her interview with the Board of Regents on Friday.

The University of Minnesota’s lone presidential finalist, Joan Gabel, swung through Rochester Thursday, the last stop of her statewide tour of the system’s five campuses, before a final interview with the Board of Regents set for Friday.

Gabel, who currently serves as the provost at the University of South Carolina, would become the university’s 17th president and its first woman leader since its founding in 1851, if appointed. The university serves 80,000 students.

During an interview with local media, Gabel said she was humbled at the possibility of becoming the first woman president, but her hope was that “my entire portfolio of work experiences and personal experiences would bring the perspective the university needs in order to enter its next chapter.”

Gabel’s trip to the University of Minnesota Rochester, the system’s newest campus, included a reception attended by students, faculty, elected leaders and community members.

“I think she’s fantastic,” said Al Berning, CEO of Ambient Clinical Analytics, one of the members to serve on the governor’s task force 12 years ago that led to the creation of the downtown campus. “She has the right experience and is a great communicator.”

Before her stint at the University of South Carolina, Gabel served as dean of the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business for five years. She also served as editor-in-chief of the American Business Law Journal.

Married and the mother of three, Gabel holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

The reception was followed by a Q-and-A session in a lecture classroom, where UMR Chancellor Lori Carrell served as a moderator, reading questions from index cards written by audience members.

It was Gabel’s first visit to Rochester, and Gabel used the hour-long forum to applaud the community’s commitment and support of UMR.

“It just comes off your skin how invested everyone is in the success and sustainability of this really unique, innovative model,” Gabel said.

Gabel also was peppered with questions about her experiences with public-private partnerships, with innovation in education, in dealing with campus mental health issues and her own “transformative” educational experiences.

One questioner asked Gabel for her response to a persistent narrative questioning the value of a higher education. Gabel suggested that educators need to be better at telling higher education’s success stories, at the economic, commercial and individual levels.

“What has happened: Higher education had these tremendous results, literally for centuries in some cases, and those results spoke for themselves,” Gabel said. “We didn’t develop a culture of advocacy about what we do.”

Not every question was a dive into deep thoughts about education. Retiring Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, perhaps the city’s most ardent Gophers enthusiast, noted the U of M marching band has played in Rochester every other year for three decades. What’s your view of marching bands, he asked?

“I love a good marching band and few things get my blood pumping like a good drum line,” she said.

She added that a visiting marching band was practicing at the Rochester hotel she was staying at last night and “I may have been the only one who appreciated it.”

Gabel was momentarily stumped when asked what TV or movie character was most like herself but then later offered Miranda from “Sex in the City.”

It’s not clear when the regents will make a decision after their final public interview of Gabel today, but Gabel indicated she was eager for the challenge ahead, if appointed by the board.

“What I would say is, I’m looking forward to giving it my best shot,” she said. “The fact that you make yourself available in the way you have gives me great optimism what the journey would be like.”

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