University of Minnesota regents will meet Friday to finalize details of the impending transition from departing President Joan Gabel to interim President Jeff Ettinger.
Regents are expected to vote on a separation agreement with Gabel, who is leaving to become chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. Gabel's contract with the U had been set to run through June 2026, but she announced in April that she intended to leave.
According to a draft of the agreement, Gabel's final day will be June 9. The U is to contribute $160,000 to her retirement plan — the amount she would receive if employed through June 30 — and award no performance bonus for the 2022-23 school year.
Gabel had asked regents to begin cashing in her paid time off on June 9. The agreement calls for the university to pay her for her unused vacation and personal holiday time but does not specify an amount, only that it will be provided by direct deposit by June 30.
Under her contract, Gabel could earn about $1 million per year in total compensation. Of that, nearly $706,000 was base pay, with the remainder to be doled out in retirement contributions, performance bonuses and other allowances. Such contributions typically are given at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Gabel is waiving a contractual right to stay at Eastcliff, the U president's official residence, for 60 days after leaving office. She will move out on or before June 27 so the president's residence can be prepared as a temporary home for Gov. Tim Walz while the governor's residence undergoes renovations, the agreement states.
Regents also plan to vote Friday on a contract with Ettinger, the former Hormel CEO, whom they have hired to lead the university in an interim capacity while they search for a longer-term president.
He is to begin work on June 10 and serve through June 2024 at an annual salary of $400,000, according to a draft of his employment agreement.
Regents have said they expect Ettinger's term to last about a year. They also set out to determine what role, if any, he would play in making decisions about projects that involve both the U and the Hormel Foods Corp. or the Hormel Foundation, a nonprofit created by the company's founders.
Ettinger said in a recent interview that he was working with the U to develop a way to cordon himself off from decisions involving both Hormel and the U.
"We recognize that, yeah, I can't be on both sides of transactions related to those enterprises," he said.
Janie Mayeron, chair of the U's Board of Regents, said then that the group was looking at hiring outside counsel to provide advice on the situation.
"We need to make sure that we are crossing T's and dotting I's and doing the right thing in terms of any potential conflicts in light of his role on that foundation," she said.
Under the agreement, Ettinger would take a leave of absence from the Hormel Foundation and recuse himself from all financial transactions or other dealings with the nonprofit. He also must resign as a member of the board of directors of Ecolab and the Toro Co., and disclose those previous for-profit and nonprofit ties on the president's website.
Ettinger was serving as chair of the Hormel Foundation board when tapped for the interim post. The foundation is involved with multiple research projects at the U, the largest of which are the Hormel Institute and the Future of Advanced Agricultural Research Minnesota (FAARM) center.
The Hormel Institute is an Austin, Minn.-based center that develops new research that can help prevent and treat cancer and other chronic illnesses. The foundation has donated to the institute each of the past 10 years in amounts ranging from roughly $4 million to $12 million.
The U is in the early stages of developing the FAARM complex, a facility in Mower County that will promote agricultural and climate change research and teaching. The cost estimate for the project is roughly $220 million, and the Hormel Foundation has contributed $60 million.
Concern over academic credentials
Last month, several dozen U faculty members, labor representatives and students rallied outside a U regents meeting to raise concerns about multiple issues, including Ettinger's appointment.
"The University is a place for scholarship and the development of thoughts and ideas to better humankind," Gopalan Nadathur, secretary of the American Association of University Professors at the Twin Cities campus, said in a news release announcing the event. He questioned whether "a former CEO of a meat processing company with no academic credentials" is the best person for the job.
Ettinger acknowledged in a recent interview that "having somebody with deep academic experience seems to be both a tradition and a good practice."
But that's for the permanent job, he added.
"I do think I bring some background, some knowledge of the state (and) knowledge of other players here that can be helpful on an interim basis," Ettinger said. "I'm thrilled to have the opportunity."