University of Minnesota regents approve pay raise for President Joan Gabel amid criticism

17December 2021

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel is getting a pay raise that brings her compensation in line with other Big Ten college presidents but comes amid objections from students, staff and faculty.

Gabel’s new contract immediately increases her base salary from $650,000 to $660,000, with another raise bringing it to $706,000 by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. With increases to her supplemental retirement contribution, a new annual performance bonus and other allowances, her compensation will total about $1 million next year.

The U’s Board of Regents voted 9-2 on Friday to approve Gabel’s contract extension, with Regents Darrin Rosha and James Farnsworth in opposition.

“In the best interest of this University of Minnesota, we cannot replace President Joan Gabel,” said board vice chairman Steve Sviggum, describing Gabel’s first two and a half years on the job as “high performance, without question, warranting the compensation.”

Sviggum mentioned Gabel had recently received verbal higher-paying offers from two colleges in the southeast U.S. “She is a commodity that is wanted around this country,” he said.

By the end of her contract in fiscal year 2026, Gabel’s base salary will be $771,000 with benefits bringing her total compensation to about $1.2 million. Nine other Big Ten presidents currently have base salaries of $750,000 or more.

U students, staffers and faculty members voiced opposition to Gabel’s pay bump before and during Friday’s meeting, noting it comes not long after employees were furloughed, three men’s sports programs were eliminated and tuition was raised 1.5% during the pandemic.

They argued not that Gabel was undeserving of the compensation, but that her raise is ill-timed and comes as other pressing needs remain to be addressed.

“If there are monetary resources available to further compensate the president, where are the monetary resources for students facing immense financial barriers?” said Gurtaran Johal, a student representative to the board who asked regents to reject the contract. “Where are the funds to increase student wages? … Where are the funds to lower tuition rates?”

The minimum wage for U student workers is $10.33 per hour, Johal said, lower than the minimum wage set by the City of Minneapolis.

Johal’s remarks drew loud applause from students, union members and even some Republican lawmakers who sat in on the board meeting. The U’s undergraduate student government, the Minnesota Student Association, also urged the board to reject the contract in a letter Thursday.

The union representing some 1,200 U clerical workers, most of whom are paid about $45,000 annually, announced its opposition to the president’s pay raise earlier this week. The union’s request for inflationary raises in each of the next two years was recently rejected by the university.

Faculty in the U’s American Association of University Professors chapter also came out against Gabel’s pay raise, issuing a statement that U faculty salaries are currently 5% lower than those at peer institutions.

“While President Gabel is handsomely rewarded, those of us who carry out the core mission of research, teaching, and service are not,” the chapter’s statement said.

Several regents defended Gabel’s pay raise Friday and even accused critics of gender bias.

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