Editor's note: On July 11, Rebecca Blank announced that she has been diagnosed with cancer and will be unable to fulfill her role as the 17th president of Northwestern University. President Morton Schapiro will continue to lead the University until his successor is identified.
Rebecca M. Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was named the 17th president of Northwestern University by the Board of Trustees last October.
Blank is an internationally renowned economist and researcher on poverty and the low-income labor market. She has also served as an economics expert in three presidential administrations. Her appointment marks a return to Northwestern, where she served on the economics department faculty from 1989 to 1999.
When she begins her appointment this summer, Blank will make history as Northwestern’s first woman president. She will succeed Morton O. Schapiro, who has served as president since 2009.
“Northwestern is a school that I have known and admired for years,” Blank says. “Its reputation as a top-rated educational and research institution has grown each decade. It will be my mission to make sure the institution’s reputation and quality continue to accelerate.”
“The Presidential Search Committee met with an incredibly competitive pool of candidates and unanimously recommended Rebecca Blank to the Board for election as our 17th president,” says Peter Barris ’74, chair of the Presidential Search Committee and a vice chair of the Board of Trustees. “As part of our process, we heard from all segments of the University community, and I believe Chancellor Blank’s deep experience and talents will support our current needs and position us for a promising future.”
As UW–Madison chancellor, Blank has advanced the institution’s mission of research and innovation, emphasizing the university’s role in nurturing entrepreneurship and driving economic development. She also oversees a research portfolio that brought in $1.5 billion in sponsored research funds this past year.
Blank has championed expanded access to higher education during her time at UW–Madison, notably through Bucky’s Tuition Promise, an initiative that guarantees four years of free tuition to Wisconsin resident students whose household adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less. Under Blank’s leadership, UW–Madison’s student body became more diverse across multiple demographics.
“She is a distinguished scholar and visionary leader,” says J. Landis Martin ’68, ’73 JD, chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. “Her bold vision for the University’s role in the world and her proven ability to lead a collaborative academic research enterprise will guide our institution toward greater eminence and impact.”
A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for almost two decades, Blank was named a 2021 Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association in recognition of her lifetime research contributions. Her research has focused on the interactions between labor markets, individual behavior, government policy and the macroeconomy.
Blank is also a leader in Division I athletics, serving on the NCAA Board of Governors. She is chair of the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors.
Blank served as acting secretary of commerce and deputy secretary of commerce under President Barack Obama ’06 H. She also was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton, a senior staff economist on the council under President George H.W. Bush, and a Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Blank, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is married to Hanns Kuttner, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. They have one daughter, Emily, who graduated from Northwestern in 2018.