Remembering Rebecca Blank

Rebecca Blank

Remembering Rebecca M. Blank, 1955⁠–⁠2023


A life of leadership, scholarship and service

Rebecca M. Blank, an economist and educator who served in high-level U.S. government and academic positions and, for nine years, as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, died of cancer Feb. 17 near Madison, Wisconsin. She was 67.

During her tenure at UW–Madison, from 2013–2022, Blank 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.

She 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. “Becky inspired faculty, staff and administrators with an approach to problem-solving that combined vision, creativity, and pragmatism.

Making her mark in Wisconsin

Blank loved the role of Madison chancellor, as she shared in a farewell blog post to the UW community in May 2022 before she left to assume the presidency of Northwestern University.

“No other job in the world would let me lead an institution with its own marching band, sailing club, mascot and ice cream flavors,” she wrote, noting her love of Bucky Badger. “In no other job do you get to address 50,000 people in Camp Randall on graduation day when they are all in a happy mood and can’t wait to hear what you have to say.”

Full UW-Madion article, photos and tributes