Former UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank diagnosed with aggressive cancer, won’t start new job | Local News

Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Monday she is stepping down from her new job as Northwestern University’s next president and instead will receive treatment in Madison for an aggressive form of cancer.

Blank, 66, announced her decision in a letter she described as “among the most difficult and painful I have ever written.” Her announcement comes on the same day she was slated to begin her new role as president of Northwestern. Her last day as UW-Madison chancellor was May 31.

“The job of president requires multiple events, long days, travel and constant energy, especially in the first year,” Blank said in the letter. “I have always been able to deliver this in previous jobs, but my doctors advise me that the treatments I am starting will make it almost impossible to do the job you need in a new president.”

“I do not have the words to express to you how disappointed and sad I am to be telling you this,” Blank added. “I was excited to be joining you at Northwestern, a world-class institution that is near and dear to my heart.”

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Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon said in a statement that Blank has “wrapped her arms around this community and our state’s flagship university for nearly a decade, and today we wrap our arms around her.”

“It is an understatement to say this cancer has picked a fight with the wrong person. Her grit and determination, combined with the world-class care she will receive at UW Health, give us the utmost hope,” Brandon added. “Becky is a Madisonian. She belongs here, and we welcome her home with love and support.”

Blank took over as UW-Madison chancellor in 2013. Over the course of her nine years with the university, she led the school through the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing challenges brought on by limited state funding and an ongoing tuition freeze for undergraduate resident students.


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She also oversaw the launch of Bucky’s Tuition Promise and Badger Promise, full-tuition scholarship programs that have helped more than 4,000 Wisconsin students whose families earn less than $60,000 annually.

Jay Rothman, president of the University of Wisconsin System, described Blank as “a champion for higher education.”







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Blank




“While this is extraordinarily difficult news, anybody who knows Becky knows of her fight and resiliency,” Rothman added. “We will do whatever we can to support Becky through her treatment process and wish her the best as she begins treatment here at UW Health in Madison.”

Blank announced last October that she would be stepping down as UW-Madison’s chancellor to succeed Northwestern University’s President Morton Schapiro to become the university’s first female president.

“We all know that nothing in life is guaranteed,” Blank said in the letter. “This last week has probably brought the biggest changes that I have ever experienced in such a short period of time. I am grieving the lost opportunities to work with all of you across campus to make Northwestern even better in the years ahead.”


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Schapiro will stay on as president until Northwestern University selects his successor, according to a statement from J. Landis Martin, chair of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees.

“Our thoughts are with Rebecca and her family during this difficult time,” Martin said. “We are appreciative of the time that she served as our president-elect, and we know she is thankful for the care and support of the entire Northwestern community.”

Former law school dean at UCLA and UW-Madison’s next chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a tweet she was “devastated” by Blank’s diagnosis.

“Sending wishes and prayers to her and her family as she focuses on her health and treatment,” Mnookin added.

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