A Life of Leadership
Remembering former UW–Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank, 1955–2023
Former UW–Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank died of cancer on February 17 at 67. During her tenure at the UW, from 2013 to 2022, she focused on improving educational outcomes and the student experience, further elevating the university’s world-class faculty, and placing the university on firm financial footing through a combination of private fundraising and inventive strategies.
Blank was known for her direct style, quick analysis, and dry sense of humor, all while leading one of the country’s top public research universities through a complex political period and a devastating global pandemic.
“Our community has lost a brilliant leader who cared deeply about making this great public research university stronger, more accessible, better connected to the community and the state, and better positioned to make a difference in the world,” said Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, who struck up a friendship with Blank in 2022 during her own transition into the chancellor role.
Under Blank’s leadership, the university created new programs, most notably Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which makes the university more accessible to lower-income students across the state. She also led increases in undergraduate enrollment, made strides expanding campus diversity, and helped reduce the average time it takes students to graduate from the state’s flagship campus. Blank left the UW to become president of Northwestern University but withdrew just prior to serving due to her cancer diagnosis.
Before becoming chancellor, Blank served in the U.S. Department of Commerce as undersecretary for economic affairs, deputy secretary, and acting secretary in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
“Whether in government or academia,” Obama wrote after Blank’s death, “she devoted her career to reducing inequality and increasing opportunities for others, and made everyone around her better.”
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