Former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank dies at 67

By: - February 20, 2023 4:41 pm

Former UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank has died at the age of 67.

Rebecca Blank, the former chancellor of UW-Madison who led the university through the COVID-19 pandemic and a period of high tension with the state’s Republican-led Legislature, died Friday night of cancer at the age of 67. 

Blank served as the chancellor from 2013 to 2022 before leaving the position to become president of Northwestern University. She ultimately did not take that role after her cancer diagnosis. 

Blank’s tenure in Madison involved the launch of Bucky’s Tuition Promise, a program aimed at making college more accessible to low income students by covering the costs of their education, and expanding the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion offerings. 

“Our community has lost a brilliant leader who cared deeply about making this great public research university stronger, more accessible, better connected to the community and the state and better positioned to make a difference in the world,” UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a statement.

UW System President Jay Rothman said Blank’s effects on Wisconsin will continue to be felt.

“She was a great leader for our flagship university, whose strength and vision built a legacy and foundation that benefits so many here in Wisconsin,” Rothman said in a statement. “She made us all better, and we will miss her.” 

In her career, Blank taught economics at Princeton, Northwestern and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was a dean at the University of Michigan. From 2009 to 2013 she worked in the administration of President Barack Obama as both deputy and acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. She also served on the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

As an economist, Blank’s decades of teaching and research were also well known. UW-Madison Provost Karl Scholz, also an economist, said in a statement that her research was always “relevant.” She published around 100 scholarly articles in her career. 

“She was blindingly smart,” Scholz said. “Becky is a labor economist who was looking at issues and topics that are of fundamental importance and immediate relevance to people. And so her research agenda was exciting and timely. She wrote papers and books that were always interesting and always worth reading.”

Blank received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Minnesota in 1976 and doctorate from MIT in 1983. 

Blank is survived by her husband, Hanns Kuttner, and their daughter, Emily, of Ann Arbor, Michigan; a brother, Grant (Denise) Blank of Oxford, England, and their daughters; and her mother. She was preceded in death by her father, Uel, in 2014.


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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.