Rebecca Blank, who led University of Wisconsin, dies at 67

Rebecca Blank, the former chancellor of UW-Madison, has died less than a year after announcing she had an aggressive form of cancer.

Associated Press

February 19, 2023 • South Central Region

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Rebecca Blank stands and speaks with out-of-focus tree foliage in the background.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blanks speaks at Memorial Union Terrace on Sept. 20, 2021. Blank served as chancellor until 2022. She died Feb. 17, 2023, less than a year after announcing that she had an aggressive form of cancer. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Rebecca Blank, an economist who served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has died, less than a year after announcing that she had an aggressive form of cancer. She was 67.

Blank’s illness forced her to step aside in July 2022 from a new job as president of Northwestern University.

“Becky was a transformational leader for UW–Madison, serving during challenging times,” said Provost Karl Scholz, the school’s chief academic officer. “Early in her tenure, she helped navigate difficult budget cuts; late in her tenure, the COVID pandemic. She was wise and decisive.”

Blank died Feb. 18, the university said.

She was chancellor in Madison from 2013 to 2022. Blank was credited with creating Bucky’s Tuition Promise — named after the school’s Badger mascot — which guarantees scholarships and grants for students whose household income is $65,000 or less.

She announced her cancer diagnosis in July 2022, just weeks after leaving Wisconsin.

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

She had been an economics professor at Northwestern earlier in her career.

Blank’s career also included government service under Republican and Democratic presidents. She held senior posts in the Commerce Department under President Barack Obama.

Editor’s note: PBS Wisconsin is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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