First Woman to Become President of Northwestern University in School's 170-Year History

For the first time in its 170-year history, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois will be led by a woman.

The university's board of trustees announced Monday that Rebecca M. Blank would become the institution's 17th president upon taking office in Summer 2022. Blank is currently the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a position that she has held since 2013.

"I am honored and delighted to accept the job as Northwestern's next president," said Blank in a statement. "Northwestern is a school that I have known and admired for years. Its reputation as a top-rated educational and research institution has grown each decade. It will be my mission to make sure the institution's reputation and quality continues to accelerate."

The board of trustees praised Blank as a choice that will help support the university into the future. "The Presidential Search Committee met with an incredibly competitive pool of candidates and unanimously recommended Rebecca Blank to the Board for election as our 17th president," Peter Barris, the chair of the Presidential Search Committee and a vice-chair of Northwestern's Board of Trustees said in a statement.

Rebecca Blank president-elect of Northwestern
Rebecca M. Blank will become the first woman president in Northwestern University's 170-year history. Above, Blank is seen during a Washington, D.C. summit in 2012. Kris Connor/Getty

A well-known economist, Blank has a Ph.D. in economics from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has taught as a professor at some of the top academic universities across the United States, including Northwestern, Princeton University, and the University of Michigan.

Blank has also spent a significant amount of time working for the government. She worked for the Council of Economic Advisers during George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton's administrations, and also served as the both Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Acting Secretary of Commerce under former President Barack Obama.

Her economic prowess has been recognized by numerous organizations, and she was a recipient of a lifetime achievement award as a 2021 Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association.

During her tenure at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Blank has been credited with numerous programs striving to make post-secondary education more affordable while enhancing economic growth and research. One of her most well-known platforms was Bucky's Tuition Promise, a guaranteed free four years of tuition to Wisconsin-based students whose households make under $60,000.

According to the statement from Northwestern, under Blank's leadership, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has become one of the top ten public schools in terms of six-year graduation rates.

"My goal was to leave UW-Madison stronger than when I arrived," Blank said. "I believe I've accomplished that."

Blank will be at the helm of the Big Ten Conference's only privately funded university, and one that is often considered among the best both nationally and globally. Ranked as the 24th best university in the world by the Times Higher Education, notable alumni of Northwestern include former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Commerce for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.