President Joan Gabel closed out her time at the University of Minnesota this week with a two-day board meeting packed with updates on tuition, enrollment and praise for colleagues.
Gabel, who has led the state's flagship university since 2019, is leaving to become chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh. Friday was her last day working for the U. Former Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger will take over as interim president on Saturday.
During the meeting Friday morning, Gabel told regents she was "truly humbled and honored to have been a small part" of the university's 172-year history.
Gabel made history as the first woman to serve as U president. She led the U through the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the wake of George Floyd's murder, and what Board Chair Janie Mayeron described as "seismic shifts in higher education."
"During her tenure, she led the university through some of the most challenging years of our history," Mayeron said as she prepared to present Gabel with a resolution honoring her service.
Mayeron credited Gabel with crafting a strategic plan "to chart a course for the university's future," boosting research, bringing in more than $4 billion in a capital campaign, strengthening diversity and equity programs, and working to repair the U's relationship with tribal nations, among other things.
The presentation did not touch on some of the controversies that have occurred during Gabel's tenure.
Some students and former regents questioned why she received nearly $1 million in annual compensation while students face tuition increases. Her supporters on the board argued that her pay was in the range offered to other Big Ten presidents, and they needed to ensure the salary remains comparable to keep quality leaders.
Gabel faced criticism last year when she accepted a paid position on the board for Securian Financial, which has more than $1 billion in business with the U. She eventually resigned from that position, defending her initial decision but saying the issue had become a distraction.
Some of those episodes frustrated students, including some who booed her at this year's graduation ceremony.
On Friday morning, regents focused instead on the contributions they said Gabel had provided to the university. Mayeron said the university obtained more patents and received more private donations during Gabel's tenure. She credited Gabel with boosting mental health resources for students and helping to usher in new programs that allow them graduate in a shorter time.
"To be a part of the ongoing legacy of the institution and have that be recognized in this way is very meaningful to me and my family," Gabel told regents, who gave her a standing ovation and hugs.
Gabel thanked the regents and a long list of faculty and staff members who have helped her during her time at the U.
"It is very much a team sport with many members of that team in this room," she said, "and many, many others who don't get the thanks that they deserve."