The University of Wisconsin-Madison community is mourning the loss of former Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who passed away on Friday, February 19th, after a seven-month battle with an aggressive form of cancer. She was 67 years old. Blank served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for nearly a decade, from 2009 to 2013, and had been named the president of Northwestern University, but was never able to serve.
Blank was an internationally renowned economist who focused on the interactions between low-income labor markets, macroeconomics, and government policy. She had published close to 100 articles and several books on topics such as poverty, low-income workers, and inequality. She taught economics at Princeton, Northwestern, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was a dean at the University of Michigan.
Blank also served in three presidential administrations, most recently as acting secretary of commerce and deputy secretary of commerce under President Barack Obama. During her career, she held various positions, such as being a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton, a senior staff economist on the Council under President George H.W. Bush, and a Robert S. Kerr senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research think tank in Washington, D.C.
Karl Scholz, the chief academic officer at UW–Madison, proclaimed that Becky was a transformational leader in difficult times. During her time in office, she demonstrated her wisdom and decisiveness by guiding them through the challenging process of budget cuts in the beginning and the COVID pandemic towards the end.
Blank was appointed as president-elect of Northwestern University in October 2021. However, in July 2022, she announced her cancer diagnosis and stepped down from her role as president-elect in order to focus on her health and her family.
“No other job in the world would let me lead an institution with its own marching band, sailing club, mascot (I’m going to miss Bucky) and ice cream flavors,” Blank wrote in her farewell blog post to the campus. At no other job is there the opportunity to speak to an audience of 50,000 people in Camp Randall on graduation day, when they are in a joyful state and eagerly awaiting what you have to say.
At the time of her death, the university had already established the Rebecca M.
0. “Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who was briefly president-elect of Northwestern, dies of cancer” FOX 32 Chicago, 18 Feb. 2023, https://www.fox32chicago.com/news/former-uw-madison-chancellor-rebecca-blank-who-was-briefly-president-elect-of-northwestern-dies-of-cancer
1. “Former UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank dies of cancer” The Badger Herald, 19 Feb. 2023, https://badgerherald.com/news/2023/02/18/former-uw-chancellor-rebecca-blank-dies-of-cancer
2. “Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank dies at 67” Wisconsin Public Radio, 19 Feb. 2023, https://www.wpr.org/former-uw-madison-chancellor-rebecca-blank-dies-67
3. “Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank dies of cancer at age 67” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 18 Feb. 2023, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/education/2023/02/18/former-university-of-wisconsin-madison-chancellor-rebecca-blank-dies/10033322002
4. “Former University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Dr. Rebecca Blank Dies at 67” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 20 Feb. 2023, https://www.diverseeducation.com/leadership-policy/article/15307078/former-university-of-wisconsinmadison-chancellor-dr-rebecca-blank-dies-at-67
5. “Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank dies at 67” Wisconsin Examiner, 20 Feb. 2023, https://wisconsinexaminer.com/brief/former-uw-madison-chancellor-rebecca-blank-dies-at-67/
6. “Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank dies of cancer” WMTV – NBC15, 18 Feb. 2023, https://www.nbc15.com/2023/02/18/former-uw-madison-chancellor-rebecca-blank-dead-67/
7. “Rebecca Blank death: Ex UW Madison chancellor Becky Blank, elected to lead Northwestern University, dies after cancer diagnosis” WLS-TV, 18 Feb. 2023, https://abc7chicago.com/rebecca-blank-cancer-death-uw-madison-northwestern/12843033/
8. “Former Northwestern President-elect Rebecca M. Blank, 1955-2023” Evanston RoundTable, 19 Feb. 2023, https://evanstonroundtable.com/2023/02/19/obituary-former-northwestern-president-elect-rebecca-m-blank-1955-2023/