Under fire, UMN President Gabel resigns position on Securian Financial board

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel on Monday resigned her position on the Securian Financial board of directors, citing five weeks of “extremely painful” public scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest between her two roles.

The U’s Board of Regents on a 9-3 vote last month approved a conflict management plan for Gabel’s relationship with Securian.

The St. Paul company holds $1.3 billion in retirement plan assets for U employees, and its affiliate, Minnesota Life Insurance Company, is in the middle of a life insurance contract worth $4.6 million a year.

Gabel will receive around $1 million in total compensation as the U’s president this year.

She told the regents last month that the Securian seat would pay another $130,000; however, she said in a letter to the board Monday that she “voluntarily waived the directors’ compensation and have not received any benefits.”

Criticism

Still, Gabel’s Securian seat has been widely criticized, including by Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, and state lawmakers from both parties have been exploring legislation to bar U presidents from serving on corporate boards.

In her letter to regents Monday, Gabel said she was resigning her Securian seat immediately and “with a heavy heart.”

“The last several weeks have been extremely painful for me and, I’m sure, very uncomfortable for you, as there have been questions regarding my service on the Board of Directors of Securian Financial.” Gabel wrote. “This distraction is unfortunate, as my appointment to the Board of Securian would only expand the University’s important networks and outreach. However, out of respect for the institution and to eliminate any further distraction of our work, with a heavy heart, I will be resigning my Securian Financial directorship effective immediately.”

Gabel’s letter gave no indication that she thinks it was unwise to have accepted the Securian position in the first place. She wrote that the language in her contract with the U anticipated such relationships, and that “most of my fellow presidents and chancellors are directors on for-profit and not-for-profit boards, including many on board of companies with whom their universities do business.”

Board of Regents statement

The Board of Regents in a statement said it welcomed Gabel’s decision.

“We find it to be a decision that serves the public interest and reaffirms the President’s unwavering commitment to advance the mission of the University of Minnesota,” the board wrote.

Regent Darrin Rosha last week asked fellow regents to call a special meeting to reconsider its approval of the conflict management plan, saying more information had since come out that raised concerns about Gabel’s involvement in the U’s business relationships with Securian. He also pointed to a state criminal statute that makes it a misdemeanor for a U employee who influences purchasing decisions to have a financial interest in those contracts.

The Board of Regents’ statement Monday said regents have been talking with Gabel in the last week about “how to appropriately address the circumstances to respect the interests of all concerned, especially the University and the public.

“President Gabel’s decision to resign from the Securian Board resolves those concerns and we appreciate her willingness to do so,” the statement read.

Securian in a statement said it respects Gabel’s “personal decision” to leave the board.

“Ms. Gabel was a strong addition to our governance team, so we are disappointed that she will not be able to continue her service,” spokesman Jeff Bakken said.

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