Amid pressure, U of M president resigns from board position with Securian Financial

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel has resigned from her position on Securian Financial’s Board of Directors after critics said the appointment conflicted with her role at the university.

In a letter written to the U of M Board of Regents on Monday, Gabel said the controversy regarding her position with Securian has been “extremely painful for me and, I’m sure, very uncomfortable for you.”

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“This distraction is unfortunate, as my appointment to the Board of Securian would only expand the University’s important networks and outreach,” Gabel wrote. “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 accepted the position with Securian in December with an annual salary of $130,000. However, in her letter, she said she had waived her compensation and received no benefits.

The Board of Regents approved the appointment 9-3 at its Dec. 16 meeting. As part of that approval, the board signed off on a conflict of interest management plan that would require Gabel’s “recusal in Securian-related matters” at the U of M.

However, the three regents who voted no expressed concern about Gabel’s role in approving a $27 million a year contract with a Securian affiliate in 2019 to cover employees’ life insurance.

In a statement on Monday, the Board of Regents said Gabel’s decision to resign was “welcomed.”

“We have been in discussions with the President this past week as to 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.”

Securian spokesman Jeff Bakken provided the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

“We respect the decision Joan Gabel made to step down from the Securian Financial Board of Directors. This was her personal decision, and we honor it.

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

“As a Minnesota company whose history dates back almost as long as the University of Minnesota’s — and as an employer filled with countless U of M graduates — we care deeply about the University. We wish President Gabel well as she continues to lead the University of Minnesota forward.”

Jeff Bakken, Securian Financial spokesman