Chancellor Emerita Blank’s legacy: on campus and among alumni

Rebecca Blank stands at a podium and speaks to an audience out of frame. She is wearing a white blazer with a starched white shirt.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank speaks to more than 800 University of Wisconsin alumni, friends and representatives gathered for the official launch of All Ways Forward on Oct. 15, 2015.

The Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association mourns the death of UW–Madison Chancellor Emerita Rebecca Blank. She was a devoted advocate for the university and a dedicated friend and partner to many of us. During her tenure at UW–Madison, Chancellor Blank built relationships with Badger alumni and donors around the globe and helped to strengthen the Badger community and increase financial support for the university.

Chancellor Blank began connecting with alumni even before her official start date. In July 2013, shortly after her appointment had been announced, she came to campus to help open Goodspeed Family Pier at Alumni Park. “Wisconsin has one of the most beautiful college campuses in the nation,” she said at the time, “and everything we do to enhance it adds to the UW’s unique charm.”

She would go on to connect with Badgers on campus, across the nation and in many countries. In 2019, for example, she traveled to Shanghai and brought together alumni from throughout east Asia for a Founders’ Day event, and in 2020, she rallied with fans before the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

“One thing is clear: UW alumni are loyal and enthusiastic about their school,” Chancellor Blank told an alumni chapter in Washington, D.C. “You care deeply about the place where you spent some of the most important years of your lives, and it shows. As chancellor, I take that level of Badger pride and enthusiasm as one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths.”

Chancellor Blank continued to foster relationships within the Badger community and championed the All Ways Forward comprehensive campaign, which ran from 2013 to 2021. During that time, she helped inspire donors to give more than $4.2 billion to the university. Those resources advance the student experience, improve educational outcomes, elevate the quality of the UW’s faculty, manage the university’s finances through a period of budget cuts and navigated the UW through an unforeseen global pandemic.

“Chancellor Blank once said that it was always her goal to leave UW–Madison stronger than she found it. I have no doubt she achieved that,” says WFAA chief executive officer Mike Knetter. “Her intellect and work ethic are unmatched; she worked tirelessly with her team to build a stronger, more resilient campus. It was an extraordinary honor to work alongside her.”

Her dedicated leadership helped create a stronger university, and her efforts will shape UW–Madison for generations. Blank’s legacy is reflected in a number of philanthropic initiatives:

  • Named professorships are prestigious endowed positions that attract top researchers and teachers to join a university’s faculty. During her chancellorship, UW–Madison more than doubled the number of fully funded named professorships, from fewer than 150 to more than 300.
  • In 2018, Chancellor Blank announced Bucky’s Tuition Promise, a guarantee that every in-state UW–Madison student whose family earns $60,000 or less will receive financial aid covering the full cost of tuition. Nearly 5,000 students have benefitted from Bucky’s Tuition Promise in its five years.
  • In 2020, Chancellor Blank called for a campuswide effort to support diversity and inclusion. The result was the Raimey-Noland Campaign, which has so far raised more than $100 million for a wide range of programs that help UW–Madison become a place where all students, faculty, and staff feel that they belong.