U.S. Commerce Secretary Is Tapped to Lead U. of Wisconsin at Madison

Bryce Richter, U. of Wisconsin at Madison

Rebecca M. Blank, acting U.S. secretary of commerce and a former public-policy dean at the U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor, will lead a campus that has been at the center of debates over the role of public flagship institutions.
March 18, 2013

Rebecca M. Blank, the acting U.S. secretary of commerce, is expected to be the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Kevin P. Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin system, and a special committee of the system's Board of Regents recommended Ms. Blank for the position on Monday. The full board is expected to approve her nomination on April 5.

Ms. Blank will take the reins of an institution that in recent years emerged as ground zero for broader national debates about the future role of public flagship institutions. Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin, who was Madison's chancellor from 2008 to 2011 before becoming president of Amherst College, led an unsuccessful and contentious effort to separate the flagship campus from the Wisconsin system. That effort, which created a rift between Ms. Martin and the system board, was mirrored in several other states where the leaders of major research institutions advocated for greater autonomy.

Ms. Blank, who has worked at the Commerce Department since 2009, is a former fellow at the Brookings Institution. From 1999 to 2008 she was dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Ms. Blank, who is expected to assume the Madison chancellorship in July, will succeed David Ward, who was named interim chancellor in 2011. Mr. Ward was chancellor of the Madison campus from 1993 to 2000.

In a written statement on Monday, Ms. Blank tied the university's agenda to broader economic prosperity for Wisconsin. "The university is integral to the economic future of the state," she said, "and must continue to be a strong partner in the effort to create jobs and stimulate economic growth."