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UCLA law dean Jennifer Mnookin named UW-Madison chancellor

Board of Regents unanimously approve Mnookin for top post being vacated by Rebecca Blank

Jennifer Mnookin
Jennifer L. Mnookin is set to become the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, according to an announcement made May 16, 2022, by the UW System Board of Regents. Pictured here on May 15, 2022, Mnookin is currently the dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mnookin will begin her role as UW–Madison Chancellor effective Aug. 4, 2022. Max S. Gerber/UW–Madison

Jennifer Mnookin, the dean of the University of California, Los Angeles law school, will be the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The UW System Board of Regents unanimously approved Mnookin for the role. She will replace outgoing Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who is leaving at the end of the month to be president of Northwestern University.

The vote follows a recommendation made by a 21-member search committee. Five finalists were announced late last month. All finalists were part of public conversations with university employees and students between May 2 and May 6. UW System previously stated 37 people applied for the position, 21 of whom are white and 16 people of color. Seven applicants are women.

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“I’m absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity to lead UW-Madison, one of our nation’s truly great public universities,” Mnookin said in a release announcing her appointment. “I deeply admire UW-Madison’s dual commitment to educational access and research excellence, as well as its mission to serve and to contribute to the state as a whole. I’m both humbled by and grateful for the confidence that the Special Regent Committee and the regents are showing in me.”

Mnookin has an extensive resume and experience in higher education.

Mnookin has been dean of the UCLA School of Law since 2015 and began work at UCLA as a professor in 2005. She was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law prior to that, and was a visiting professor at the Harvard University Law School for a year.

She has a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned her law degree from Yale Law School and got her bachelor’s degree from Harvard College.

In a video shared Monday, Mnookin said the Wisconsin Idea is a roadmap for public higher education.

“For me, the Wisconsin Idea is the clear vision for what a public university is and should be,” she said. “I want to celebrate it as a national and even global model for why public universities matter.”

Comments from current and future colleagues of Mnookin were included in UW-Madison’s announcement of her hire. UW-Madison professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Susan Hagness, said Mnookin brings vision, high energy and a passion for students.

“UW-Madison is going to be in great hands under Jennifer Mnookin’s leadership as she takes the baton and builds on the strong legacy of Chancellor Blank,” Hagness said. “Collaborative leadership is at her core and she has extensive prior experience with shared governance.”

Incoming UW System President Jay Rothman, who was picked to lead the state’s universities in January, said Mnookin’s “intimate understanding of the Wisconsin Idea will be a tremendous asset to our state.”

“Jennifer Mnookin’s innovative approaches to education, research, service and diversity provide a strong foundation for leading Wisconsin’s flagship university,” Rothman said.

UCLA law professor and Dean of Faculty and Intellectual Life, Beth Colgan, lamented Mnookin’s move to UW-Madison and said “Wisconsin is so lucky to have her, as we have been.”

“It is hard to imagine life at UCLA Law without Jennifer steering the ship,” Colgan said. “She has led us through incredible times in the last few years — a global pandemic, multiple constitutional crises, the righteous anger at the death of George Floyd and countless others. In doing so, she has been thoughtful, kind, tough, witty and wise.”

Not everyone was pleased with the decision to hire Mnookin to lead the state’s largest public university. In an emailed statement sent to Wisconsin Public Radio, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, blasted the UW System Board of Regents for their “blatant partisan selection of Dr. Mnookin as the next leader for UW-Madison.”

Vos said Mnookin “wholeheartedly supports critical race theory being taught on campus, is in favor of widespread vaccine mandates.”

“After all the work of Tommy Thompson and Rebecca Blank that attempted to strengthen relationships between the university and the Legislature, this is a step backwards,” Vos said. “I strongly hope the Board of Regents will reconsider their selection.”

A UW-Madison spokesperson shared Mnookin’s response to Vos’ criticisms.

“I have not had an opportunity to meet Speaker Vos yet but look forward to doing so upon my arrival in Wisconsin later this summer,” Mnookin said. “I plan to work with all members of the state legislature, regardless of party, to help meet our common goal of moving the university and the state forward.”

UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch also provided a statement to WPR in response to Vos’ criticism. He said system leadership looks forward to Mnookin’s arrival on campus.

“Dean Mnookin received a unanimous vote from a Board of Regents made up of appointees from both Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. Tony Evers,” Pitsch said. “The UW Board of Regents selection process for chancellors and the President is rigorous and well-considered, and has resulted in a talented, diverse group of leaders at universities across Wisconsin, including Chancellor-designate Mnookin.”

On Aug. 4, Mnookin begins her job as the 30th leader of the system’s flagship university, which has 47,000 students and 24,000 faculty and staff. Her annual salary will be $750,000, according to system communications staff.

Blank’s last day is May 31. UW-Madison Provost John Karl Scholz, who was also a finalist for the job, will lead the state’s largest university on an interim basis.

Editor’s note: Andrea Anderson contributed reporting to this story. Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications