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Rebecca Blank chosen new UW chancellor

Rebecca Blank has been selected as the new chancellor at UW-Madison. Blank, shown here during her visit to campus last week, is acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce and brings experience both in university and government administration. She was a finalist for the same job in 2008.

Count incoming UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank as another glum Badger fan after the basketball team got bounced from the NCAA tournament Friday. Although she couldn’t watch the game — her Washington, D.C., office’s cable package doesn’t include truTV — she checked periodically online and came away frustrated.

“I’m very sorry for the outcome,” Blank said in her first comments to reporters after being announced Monday as the university’s recommended next leader. “I had the Badgers going all the way in my bracket.”

In a 35-minute telephone news conference, Blank also said she’d start the new job, if approved by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents next month, in July. She plans to spend her first year as chancellor getting to know key leaders throughout campus, the State Capitol and the UW System while also planning to launch a major fundraising campaign.

One state leader who will need no introduction: Gov. Scott Walker. Blank said she’s met the governor twice in Washington, D.C., including sitting next to him at a dinner two months ago and chatting when Walker was in town at the Republican Governors Association meeting.

“He was very kind to reach out to me,” she said, noting that Walker called after she got the nod for chancellor. Blank, a Democrat, touted her bipartisan work as acting U.S. Commerce secretary and said she believes she can work effectively with the state Legislature no matter who’s in power.

“This is a department that really does reach across a lot of bipartisan issues,” she said of Commerce, where she’s been a top official since 2009.

She reiterated her desire to move back to the more familiar world of campus and the Midwest after growing up in Minnesota and spending a good chunk of her academic career at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan.

“The politics is a little cleaner, and the streets are a little cleaner,” she said of the Midwest.

She said she looks forward to meeting other chancellors within the UW System and has no plans to follow on former chancellor Biddy Martin’s ideas about separating the state’s flagship campus from the system.

“I think the University of Wisconsin System has an enormous number of advantages,” she said. “I think there’s a real advantage to work together.”

On tuition, Blank reiterated comments she made on campus last week that her priority is keeping increases lowest for in-state undergraduates. She expressed support for the university’s reciprocal partnership with the University of Minnesota, which allows students from both states to pay in-state tuition across the border.

For other out-of-state students, she said she’d be open to charging higher tuition to keep their costs in line with out-of-staters at other peer universities.

UW-Madison’s comparatively low faculty salaries “gives me great concern,” Blank said, and she pledged to use the major fundraising campaign as one tool to help raise faculty pay to be more in line with other universities of its caliber.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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