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UW-Madison chancellor stepping down to serve as Northwestern University president

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Rebecca Blank says some of the happiest moments in her time as chancellor have been celebrating Commencement at Camp Randall with graduates and their families. Here she exchanges high fives with a member of the Class of 2020 who returned for a ceremony in September. When the original ceremony had to be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Blank promised graduates she’d bring them back for an in-person celebration. PHOTO: BRYCE RICHTER

Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

MADISON, Wis. — After more than eight years leading the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chancellor Rebecca Blank is moving on.

UW-Madison announced Monday that Blank plans to leave the university at the end of the 2021-22 academic year to take over as president of Northwestern University. Blank began her tenure as chancellor at UW-Madison in July 2013.

“Leading UW–Madison and serving the people of Wisconsin has been an honor and a privilege,” Blank said. “Now it’s time to let someone else step into leadership. I have many connections with Northwestern and am excited about this new opportunity.”

Prior to her time at UW-Madison, Blank worked in three different presidential administrations, including her role as acting Secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama.

UW System President Tommy Thompson, who also has a background in federal politics, said Blank’s advocacy for the university has helped make it stronger.

“The University of Wisconsin is one of the finest universities in the world, and Chancellor Blank’s tenacious advocacy and strong leadership have helped build on that legacy during her tenure,” Thompson said. “On behalf of the University of Wisconsin System, I want to thank her for her service to our state and wish her well at Northwestern.”

Blank previously served as dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and was on the faculty at Northwestern from 1989 to 1999 as director of its Joint Center for Poverty Research.

Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement he’s grateful for Blank’s service to the university.

“Chancellor Blank is a distinguished leader and economist who has always been a fierce advocate for continuing UW-Madison’s proud tradition of excellence in research and innovation, especially in the midst of political headwinds and budget cuts during her time at the UW,” Evers said. “I’m grateful for Chancellor Blank’s leadership during her near-decade as chancellor at UW-Madison, and I wish her all the best as president of Northwestern University.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said Blank will be missed once she moves on to her new role.

I have greatly appreciated the chancellor’s calm unflappable demeanor and smart, practical approach to many challenges facing the UW and our community over these past nine years,” Rhodes-Conway said. “She had a tough job and she did it well in a very collaborative manner. Her wry sense of humor will also be missed. We wish her the best in her new position.”

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