Former UW Chancellor facing ‘aggressive cancer’ steps down from new job at Northwestern

By: - July 12, 2022 11:52 am

Rebecca Blank will be leaving UW-Madison at the end of the school year to become President of Northwestern University. (Bryce Richter | UW-Madison)

Former University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank will not serve as president of Northwestern University after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last week, she announced in a statement on Monday. 

Blank, who served as chancellor for nine years until leaving the post in May, was set to begin her new job on Monday. 

“This letter is among the most difficult and painful I have ever written,” she wrote in a message to the Northwestern community. “Today was supposed to be my first day on campus as President-elect, in anticipation of succeeding Morton Schapiro as your next president on Sept. 1. Last week, I learned that I have an aggressive form of cancer, which will require all my strength and resolve to fight, prohibiting me from being able to serve as your next president.”

Schapiro, whom Blank was set to replace, will stay in the role as Northwestern’s president until the university’s search committee can find another candidate, the school announced

Blank was announced as the president-elect last October and she was going to be the university’s first woman president. In her message on Monday she said she won’t have the energy required to do the job. 

“The job of president requires multiple events, long days, travel and constant energy, especially in the first year,” she said. “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. I was excited to be joining you at Northwestern, a world-class institution that is near and dear to my heart.”

After the announcement, UW leaders and Gov. Tony Evers expressed their sadness over Blank’s diagnosis and their support for her family. 

“I can speak for all of us in the leadership of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in saying that we’re absolutely devastated by the news that Chancellor Emeritus Becky Blank has been diagnosed with cancer and that she will not be assuming the presidency of Northwestern University,” Interim Chancellor Karl Scholz said in a statement.

Evers said on Twitter that the state of Wisconsin is supporting her. 

“Kathy and I are incredibly saddened to hear the news of Chancellor Emeritus Becky Blank,” he wrote. “Becky and Hanns [Blank’s husband], as you return to Wisconsin for this difficult journey, know the entire state is thinking of you and is behind you in this fight.”

According to the statement from Northwestern, Blank will return to Madison for treatment.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.