Rebecca M. Blank was confirmed as the next chancellor of UW-Madison today, Friday, April 5.
Blank, an economist who currently serves as the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, was appointed by a unanimous vote of the UW System Board of Regents. She will begin her appointment in mid-to-late July, succeeding David Ward, who has served as interim chancellor for the past two years.
“I can’t tell you how very proud I am to be joining one of the world’s great universities,” Blank says.
All are invited to email her greetings and congratulations at email@example.com.
Regents panel recommends Rebecca Blank as next UW-Madison chancellor
March 18, 2013
Rebecca M. Blank sees the opportunity to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a return to her higher education roots, in a distinguished career that has spanned both academia and government.
A special committee of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has recommended Blank, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, for the position from among four candidates forwarded by a campus search and screen committee.
“I am both delighted and honored to receive this offer and delighted and honored to accept it,” Blank says. “Wisconsin is a world-class university, and the opportunity to provide leadership with first-class groups of staff and faculty is exciting.”
The full Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the recommendation April 5. If confirmed, Blank will succeed Interim Chancellor David Ward, who has served since July 2011. Blank hopes to start in late July.
Blank grew up in Roseville, Minn. and attended the University of Minnesota, where she earned a B.S. in economics. After receiving her undergraduate degree, Blank held a consultant position with a Chicago data firm before attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earning a Ph.D. in economics.
Blank was a visiting fellow at UW–Madison’s Department of Economics and Institute for Research on Poverty in 1985, before moving on to teaching positions at MIT, Princeton University, Northwestern University and the University of Michigan. At Michigan, she served as dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy from 1999-2007.
Blank stepped away from the world of higher education five years ago. She became a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. before joining Commerce in 2009. She began as under secretary for economic affairs and was later appointed deputy secretary and acting secretary. But when she was offered the chance to return to academia and the Midwest as UW–Madison’s chancellor, “I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Blank says.
“Dr. Blank is uniquely prepared to lead UW-Madison, coming to us with broad national and international experience in roles where big science and big research intersect with job creation and commercialization,” UW System President Kevin P. Reilly said in a statement. “She also has a strong track record of educational innovation, having created interdisciplinary graduate programs, and a new undergraduate public policy major, at the University of Michigan.
“At a time when Governor Walker’s budget would reinvest in the UW System, putting our institutions in a position to step up in areas of workforce development and economic growth, Dr. Blank’s impressive skill set will be an invaluable addition to UW-Madison,” Reilly said.
“Dr. Blank brings to the chancellor position a broad and varied array of experience managing complex organizations, along with a record of academic leadership,” says Regent Charles Pruitt, who chaired the Special Regent Committee that interviewed Blank and other candidates. “Add to that a brilliant mind and Midwestern roots, and you get someone who understands UW-Madison’s extraordinary potential and knows how to achieve that potential through strong, collaborative leadership. She is committed to upholding the finest traditions of the Wisconsin Idea in ways that benefit all state citizens.”
David McDonald, the UW–Madison professor of history who headed the 25-member search and screen committee, says Blank’s experience of leading a large federal agency will be a tremendous asset for the university. Blank has a reputation as a professional who has worked with and is respected by both sides of the political aisle, and as someone who is interested in achieving results, McDonald says.
“Dr. Blank’s time in the Department of Commerce will serve her and by extension the university very well in terms of how to lead a very complex operation,” McDonald says. “She has the skills one needs to manage a very diverse entity with varied missions. The fact that she emerged as the regents’ choice from what my colleagues on the committee felt was a very strong field for this position speaks volumes.
“The search committee members were particularly impressed by her commitment both to ‘big science’ and to the liberal arts as equally essential components in the education of citizens for 21st century America,” McDonald says.
“Rebecca Blank is well prepared to lead UW-Madison in every respect. She has a deep understanding of the causes and consequences of the financial pressures that are affecting American public higher education and American families, and of the importance of non-state funds to the future of UW-Madison,” says Michael Knetter, president and CEO of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. “She brings a proven track record in development from her leadership at the University of Michigan, which included the naming of the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy. We are excited to work with Becky.”
“Dr. Blank is a top choice for her great experience in big, complex, complicated organizations — their benefits and their challenges — and how to balance good governance with a pace of decision-making that moves UW in an up-tempo, innovative style,” says Wisconsin Alumni Association president and CEO Paula Bonner. “She’s smart as a whip, warm, energetic, and a true champion for public higher education. I’m eager for alumni to get to know her and work with her to advance UW-Madison.”
The experience of leading Commerce has sharpened her skill at communicating priorities both internally and externally, Blank says, and at thinking strategically about moving program and policy goals forward.
The Commerce Department, in addition to its role in economic development and job creation, also includes several bureaus devoted to science and data. Among them are the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Census Bureau and the Patent and Trademark Office.
“I have been working on issues of American competitiveness, making sure the U.S. stays on the front edge of innovation,” Blank says. “I have spent a lot of time in research institutions and thinking about how to successfully do technology transfers and protect intellectual property, which are issues that are deeply important, not only to the University of Wisconsin, but deeply important to the state of Wisconsin. I bring that experience and perspective and I am excited to develop and nourish entrepreneurship among the faculty, staff and students.”
Blank says she has a special appreciation for the role land grant universities like UW–Madison have historically played in education, research and innovation, and for the accessibility the institutions have afforded students from diverse backgrounds.
“I have long admired the Wisconsin Idea that Wisconsin has developed so explicitly,” she says. “Wisconsin has been out front in talking about the idea of how a university does outreach to the rest of the state and beyond.”
From her visits here, Blank believes that the UW–Madison campus is one of the most beautiful academic settings in the country.
“But even more, I was impressed in the two days spent there with the quality of the faculty, the quality of the staff and the students you meet, and the shared commitment to teaching and learning, research and service,” she says.