President Gabel’s departure offers the U of M an opportunity to reboot on public safety

On Monday 4/3/23, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel announced she had accepted an offer from the University of Pittsburg to become its president effective July 2023. 

Gabel’s announced departure has prompted many to comment and report on her tenure in less than favorable terms.  A long list of controversies, disappointments, and poor timing have plagued Gabel’s short tenure at the University – to include her million-dollar compensation at a time of staff furloughs, program closures, and tuition increases; conflict of interest concerns over her ill advised quest to join the board of Securian Financial which holds $1.3 billion in university retirement plan assets; and her lack of effort in engaging the legislature for support and appropriate funding during the legislative session.

Former Governor Arne Carlson, who chose to be adorned with a U of M letter jacket in his gubernatorial portrait that hangs in the Capitol, did not mince words on Gabel’s legacy.

“I think she did an excellent job of taking care of herself and her friends, and a very poor job of improving the climate for the students.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a president that was more self-serving.  It was a very disappointing administration.”

Former Governor of Minnesota, Arne Carlson during an MPR interview found here.

Even the Star Tribune’s editorial board noted here that Gabel’s departure caps a largely disappointing tenure with “dreadful timing” that leaves the university rudderless as it faces several critical challenges which require leadership and direction.  

These critiques arguably leave out one of the more significant failures of Gabel’s tenure – public safety.

Gabel has led the university in the direction of wokeness which was spearheaded by her ill-advised demonization of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).  Gabel’s response to the death of George Floyd was to generalize and throw law enforcement under the bus.  She quickly severed most formal ties between the university and the MPD, without consideration of the impact of that decision.  Appearances were more important than public safety – and the students, faculty, and visitors to the university paid the price.

Public safety in and around campus has suffered greatly since 2020.  Armed robberies of students and neighborhood residents by criminals who had no fear of police intervention sadly became commonplace.  MPD patrolled their jurisdiction within the Dinkytown and university setting at a bare minimum – reflecting the apparent desires of the university administration.  Conflicts over who was responsible for the complex jurisdictional geography on campus became common.  The U of M police became stretched thin, and the atmosphere helped create a retention and recruitment crisis for the department.

Things came to a head last summer when some 50 shots were fired in the middle of fraternity row involving nonstudents who had turned a private property into a public safety nightmare.  A fifteen-year-old boy was shot, and bullets hit buildings in the area and narrowly missed an occupied MTC bus stopped on University avenue at the time. 

The father of a student received this dreadful text from his son who lived nearby the shooting:

“Mom and dad, do you know that every single day I wake up to go to class I’m scared for my life?  I don’t know if I’m going to get mugged, shot or beaten up and every single night I go to bed I think, wow, I survived another day.”

U of M student quoted by parent in Center of the American Experiment article “Criminal Education – Outrage grows over the escalating crime and violence at the
U of M.

The shootout led to a parents group demanding answers from Gabel and university leadership.  In a tone-deaf manner Gabel appeared at the meeting via ZOOM, made a brief introduction and left without taking a question.

A follow up meeting in August went about as poorly, despite her actual presence.  Gabel announced that she was beginning the process of restoring relations with the MPD but refused to acknowledge that her original actions had affected public safety on campus.

Gabel was also overtly dismissive of the first student speaker who expressed disappointment with the direction Gabel had taken with law enforcement. Read more about this meeting here.

“I’m not safe, I know that. I know that it wasn’t always like that. It was the rhetoric on, and the actions taken towards the police by those in power that changed that…you cannot have a climate of safety when you create a climate where it is acceptable to hate a group of people merely because they try to protect us.”

Latino student who spoke out against Gabel’s actions at August 2022 public safety meeting.

As many have noted, there is much to criticize about Gabel’s short tenure with the university.  One area that should not be forgotten is the woke attitude towards law enforcement that Gabel fomented.  An attitude which only exposed the university and surrounding area to an influx of violent crime and a deterioration of public safety.

Calls for the Board of Regents to find a new president who will address the critical challenges facing the University of Minnesota would be wise to add reinvesting in and reprioritizing the university’s attitude towards law and order to that list.  The viability of the university depends on it.