University of Minnesota system President Joan T.A. Gabel spoke about the university’s strategic planning and answered questions from students, staff and faculty during a town hall meeting Tuesday at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Gabel is visiting UMD as part of a systemwide tour of “campus consultations” as she settles into her new role as the U of M’s top administrator. She succeeded outgoing President Eric Kaler over the summer and was formally inaugurated last month.
The visits are part of Gabel’s efforts to identify specific strategic commitments, which will be laid out in a final plan for the university’s Board of Regents to review next summer.
On Tuesday, sitting next to UMD Chancellor Lendley Black before a crowd of about 200 people in the Kirby Ballroom, Gabel highlighted the importance of identifying actionable, measurable goals that address the university’s shared values.
Gabel listed five proposed strategic commitments on Tuesday, They include student success; discovery, innovation and outreach; community and belonging; fiscal stewardship; and health, food and water.
She spent extra time on the last commitment, mentioning the university’s health research, particularly at its Rochester campus, while connecting water and the environment with work being done at UMD.
“We're able to do very interesting research, very interesting service, and have real influence and voice on questions about the environment that are happening right here in Minnesota that have a distinct global impact and potential,” she said.
“We see those pillars as unique intersections between how this state inspires research, learning and service, and how those questions play to the strengths of our campus communities.”
After Gabel’s presentation, Black asked questions that students, staff and faculty had submitted before the event.
“What is your vision to creating a complete system, with each campus having an important and distinctive role, especially as campuses outside of the (Twin Cities) metro area are facing significant budget challenges?” Black asked.
“This is the greatest opportunity and the hardest challenge, right?” Gabel answered. “(It was) an absolute pleasure to get a sense of the system here and see that each campus has signatures in the way that they serve their community and the programs that are offered.”
Gabel said there is some competition between campuses with high school graduates declining nationally, but she sees each campus’ signature and unique place in the overall system as crucial to attracting those students.
“So, I have zero interest in doing anything that would dilute that distinctiveness on each campus,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, our entire resource rubric is driven by students”
Black also asked Gabel about per-student funding and concerns about how UMD as the University of Minnesota’s second-largest campus can maintain its needs and strengthen its future.
“We don’t have a solution yet,” Gabel said. “It would be a real pleasure to say today, ‘I'm pleased to announce that we’ve found the millions of dollars in shortfall.’ I don't have that announcement to make.”
“There are two components,” she continued. “One is the hedge — and you should roll your eyes at me when I say it, but unfortunately, it's true — which is, I came in the middle of a two-year budget. So, there are some decisions made that I'm navigating but did not participate in. … The other is that the state didn't give us everything we asked for. This state is very committed to education; it is the most committed state that I've ever worked in. But we did ask for what we needed, and we didn't get it.”
Gabel said the university must focus on enrollment management to ensure the right balance of incoming freshmen and transfer students, while also making sure that all students progress.
“But (these are) not magic bullets,” she said, “and they don't happen immediately.”