Blank stepping down as president of Northwestern following cancer diagnosis

Former UW-Madison chancellor returning to Wisconsin for treatment

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank speaks during to the UW System Board of Regents in Madison in February 2020. Bryce Richter/UW-Madison

Former University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank has stepped down as president of Northwestern University after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Blank left UW-Madison in May to become the 17th president of the private university in Evanston, Illinois. A statement from Northwestern said Blank and her husband will return to Wisconsin where she will undergo treatment.

“I do not have the words to express to you how disappointed and sad I am to be telling you this,” Blank wrote. “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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Blank was picked to succeed Northwestern president Morton Schapiro in October 2021. The university’s board of trustees has asked Schapiro to stay in that role as it begins another search for a replacement.

“As heartbreaking as this is for me, I take solace in knowing Northwestern is in great hands,” said Blank. “Although I have not been on campus full-time, I have had the opportunity to talk with many campus leaders over the past eight months. It is clear that NU has tremendous leadership, outstanding faculty and staff, and a wonderful group of students.”

Prior to leaving in May, Blank spent eight years as UW-Madison’s Chancellor.

A statement from UW-Madison Interim Chancellor John Scholz, who worked closely with Blank for years, said he expects she will approach her cancer treatment “with the same energy and focus” she committed to being chancellor of Wisconsin’s flagship university.

“As Becky and (Blank’s husband, Hanns Kuttner) begin this extremely difficult journey, our UW–Madison community will hold them in our hearts and do all we can to support them,” said Scholz.

In May, the UW System Board of Regents hired Jennifer Mnookin to replace Blank as UW-Madison’s chancellor. Her first day is Aug. 4. Mnookin is the Dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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