Rebecca Blank

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Rebecca Blank
Rebecca Blank official portrait.jpg
Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison
In office
July 22, 2013 – June 1, 2022
Preceded byDavid Ward
Succeeded byJohn Scholz (acting)
Jennifer Mnookin
United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
June 11, 2012 – June 1, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJohn Bryson
Succeeded byCameron Kerry (acting)
In office
August 1, 2011 – October 21, 2011
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byGary Locke
Succeeded byJohn Bryson
United States Deputy Secretary of Commerce
In office
November 18, 2010 – June 1, 2013
Acting: November 18, 2010 – March 29, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byDennis Hightower
Succeeded byBruce H. Andrews
Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs
In office
June 9, 2009 – March 29, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byCynthia Glassman
Succeeded byMark Doms
Personal details
Born (1955-09-19) September 19, 1955 (age 67)
Columbia, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseHanns Kuttner
EducationUniversity of Minnesota (BA)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA, PhD)

Rebecca Margaret "Becky" Blank[1] (born September 19, 1955[2]) is an American economist and academic administrator. The Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 2013 to 2022, Blank has also served in various roles in the United States Department of Commerce, including as acting United States Secretary of Commerce.

Early life and education[edit]

A native of Missouri, Blank graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota with a degree in economics and holds a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[3]


Blank was the Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. From 1997 to 1999, Blank was a member Council of Economic Advisers in the 1990s during the Clinton Administration, participating in White House decision-making on economic, social and regulatory policy issues.[4]

She was a professor of economics at Northwestern University and director of the University of ChicagoNorthwestern University Joint Center for Poverty Research. She also taught at Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[3]

Department of Commerce[edit]

During the Obama Administration, Blank joined the Commerce Department in June 2009 as Secretary Gary Locke's principal economic advisor in her role as Under Secretary for Economic Affairs and head of the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA). ESA oversees the two premier statistical agencies in the United States, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. She also served as Locke's appointed Board Representative to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.[4]

During her service at ESA, Blank played an important role overseeing a decennial Census operation which was both timely and under budget – netting $1.6 billion in 2010 savings. Within ESA, she supervised a staff of economists and policy analysts who produce a wide variety of reports and forecasts that help develop and assess domestic and international policy.[4]

On November 18, 2010, United States Department of Commerce announced that Rebecca Blank would become its Acting Deputy Secretary. In that role, she focused on matters of management and policy for the department's 12 bureaus, functioning as Commerce's chief operating officer.[5] Her management roles were overseeing nearly 45,000 employees and also a $10 billion budget.[6]

In late 2011, President Obama nominated Blank to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce. The United States Senate confirmed her to the post on March 29, 2012 by unanimous consent.[7]

Blank became the Acting Secretary of Commerce for the first time on August 1, 2011, after Gary Locke became U.S. Ambassador to China.[8] President Obama nominated John Bryson and on October 21, 2011 and he became the 37th Secretary of Commerce. At the same time, Blank was designated the Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce.

Blank was designated Acting Secretary of Commerce a second time on June 11, 2012. Incumbent Secretary John Bryson took a medical leave of absence following his citation on felony hit-and-run charges. He transferred his powers to Blank for an undetermined length of time.[9] A Department of Commerce spokesperson said he had suffered a seizure.[10]

On March 18, 2013, Blank announced that she was leaving the Obama administration to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Following her resignation, Cameron Kerry was designated as Acting Secretary of Commerce, pending the Senate confirmation of Penny Pritzker.

University of Wisconsin – Madison[edit]

It was announced on February 21, 2013, that Blank was one of four finalists for the position of Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[11] A special committee of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents recommended her for the position on March 18, and she announced that she would accept the position the same day. The full Board of Regents unanimously confirmed Blank as chancellor on April 5, and she began as chancellor on July 22.[12][13] Blank was previously a finalist for the position in 2008,[14] when Carolyn "Biddy" Martin was selected as Chancellor.

Throughout her time as Chancellor, Blank had to contend with an in-state undergraduate tuition freeze, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to state funding.[15] She additionally worked to minimize faculty departures following the removal of statutory tenure protections by the Republican-controlled state legislature[16] as well as legislation shifting away power from a long established faculty/student shared governance arrangement to the politically-appointed Board of Regents.[17] Blank was able to implement full-tuition scholarship programs for Wisconsin students whose families earn less than $60,000 annually, and presided over substantial increases in both the size of the Freshman class and the 4-6 year graduation rates for undergraduate students.[18] Despite record increases in student body and faculty diversity, Blank came under criticism from student activists for the perceived efficacy of these changes on campus climate, as well as her responsiveness to calls for the removal of a statute of Abraham Lincoln because of his role in the genocide of indigenous populations.[19] She also faced criticism for the removal of a campus landmark that had been historically referred to by a racial epithet,[20] as well as the renaming of the university's Frederic March Play Circle because of its namesake's brief membership in the Ku Klux Klan as an undergraduate, an association he had disavowed as an adult.[21] Blank completed a $4 billion fundraising campaign, the largest in school history,[22] and set in motion long delayed campus building projects that have included a new academic home for the College of Letters & Science,[23] a new School of Music performance center,[24] and a home for the newly established School of Computer, Data, and Information Sciences.[25] However, Blank was unable to secure borrowing ability for UW-Madison, something its peer institutions are able to do.[26] She was also unable to secure a pledge of $100 million by Foxconn to provide funding for a new research building at the College of Engineering.[27] Foxconn had previously agreed to such a pledge as part of its proposed $10 billion investment in manufacturing in Wisconsin, which they have since reduced significantly, and without an agreed upon schedule of payments to UW-Madison.[27]

Northwestern University[edit]

It was announced on October 11, 2021, that Blank would become the next president of Northwestern University.[28] Blank was to succeed Morton Schapiro in the summer of 2022. Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA School of Law, was selected to replace Blank as UW chancellor.[29]

However, on July 11, 2022, Blank announced in a message to the Northwestern community that she had "an aggressive form of cancer"[30] and would be unable to serve in her new role as planned.[31] Former UCLA Law dean Michael H. Schill, then serving as president of the University of Oregon, ultimately became Northwestern's next president.[32]

Honors and distinctions[edit]

Blank is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the Society of Labor Economists, an Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and a lifetime associate at the National Academies of Science. She has served in a wide variety of advisory and professional roles, including service on the Boards of Directors of MDRC, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Urban Institute. She was a long-time faculty affiliate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, vice president of the American Economic Association, and president of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.


Blank is the author of numerous books and articles that focus on the interaction between the macro economy, the labor market, government social policy programs, and the behavior and well-being of low-income families. Her 1997 book, It Takes A Nation: A New Agenda for Fighting Poverty (Princeton University Press) won the Richard A. Lester Award for the Outstanding Book in Labor Economics and Industrial Relations. Among her other recent books are Changing Inequality (University of California Press, 2011), Insufficient Funds: Savings, Assets, Credit, and Banking Among Low-Income Families (joint with Michael Barr, Russell Sage Press, 2009), and Is the Market Moral? (With William McGurn, Brookings Press, 2004.) She is the author of over 100 articles in books and academic journals.[33][not specific enough to verify]


  3. ^ a b "Rebecca Blank's Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Commerce. "Rebecca M. Blank". Department of Commerce Official Biography. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  5. ^ Commerce. "Commerce Department Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Rebecca Blank Named Acting Deputy Secretary". Department of Commerce Press Releases. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  6. ^ "Rebecca M. Blank | The Hamilton Project". Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  7. ^ "Becky Blank confirmed as Under Secretary for Economic Affairs". The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. May 26, 2009. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  8. ^ Department of Commerce. "Secretary Locke Resigns, Becomes Next Ambassador to China; Acting Deputy Secretary Blank Assumes Role of Acting Secretary". Department of Commerce blog. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  9. ^ "White House: Bryson to take medical leave". USA Today. June 11, 2012. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  10. ^ "Commerce agency: Secretary John Bryson had seizure linked to crashes". The Los Angeles Times. June 11, 2012. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  11. ^ "Regents panel recommends Rebecca Blank as next UW-Madison chancellor". University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
  12. ^ "Regents confirm Rebecca Blank as next UW-Madison chancellor" The Daily Cardinal. April 5, 2013.
  13. ^ "Blank reaches out on first day as chancellor" University of Wisconsin. July 26, 2013.
  14. ^ "Scott Walker says Rebecca Blank is a great pick for UW-Madison chancellor". The Capital Times. March 18, 2013. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  15. ^ "UW-Madison chancellor headed to Northwestern in 2022". Wisconsin State Journal.
  16. ^ "UW-Madison chancellor headed to Northwestern in 2022". Wisconsin State Journal.
  17. ^ "UW-Madison chancellor headed to Northwestern in 2022". Wisconsin State Journal.
  18. ^ "UW-Madison chancellor headed to Northwestern in 2022". Wisconsin State Journal.
  19. ^ "BIPOC Student Colation expresses disappointment in Chancellor Blank's dismissal od demands". The Badger Herald.
  20. ^ "Five things to know about NU President-elect Rebecca Blank". The Daily Northwestern.
  21. ^ "Eminent Historians Fault UWO on name change, say Fredric March was no racist but a civil rights superstar". Oshkosh Examiner.
  22. ^ "UW-Madison chancellor headed to Northwestern in 2022". Wisconsin State Journal.
  23. ^ "UW-Madison unveils new L&S Building as Levy Hall". The Daily Cardinal.
  24. ^ "Mead Witter School of Music's Hamel Music Center opening this fall". University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  25. ^ "University of Wisconsin Madison is constructing a computer science building". American School & University.
  26. ^ "UW-Madison chancellor headed to Northwestern in 2022". Wisconsin State Journal.
  27. ^ a b "Philanthropy News Digest".
  28. ^ "Northwestern University names new president". Crain's Chicago Business.
  29. ^ "Jennifer Mnookin named chancellor". University of Wisconsin–Madison. May 16, 2022.
  30. ^ "Rebecca M. Blank shares cancer diagnosis, choice to step down as president-elect of Northwestern". Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  31. ^ Knox, Liam (July 12, 2022). "Northwestern president-elect resigns after cancer diagnosis". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 16, 2022.
  32. ^ Northwestern Now Staff (August 11, 2022). "Michael H. Schill named next president of Northwestern: President of the University of Oregon will become Northwestern president this fall". Northwestern Now. Northwestern University.
  33. ^ Blank, Rebecca. "Dr. Blank's Personal Comments". {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from Rebecca M. Blank, Acting Secretary of Commerce and Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. United States Government.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Deputy Secretary of Commerce
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of Commerce

Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of Commerce

Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Madison
Preceded by President of Northwestern University
Summer of 2022