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Chancellor Rebecca Blank is leaving UW-Madison to become president of Northwestern University. Her last day is May 31. 

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says she will miss the Memorial Union Terrace, Badgers game days and Bucky. 

What she won’t miss, she told reporters Wednesday, are the hurdles in leading “one of the more constrained and regulated universities in the country.”

In a final media briefing, Blank, who is leaving UW-Madison to become president of Northwestern University this summer, outlined her achievements throughout her nine years as chancellor. She also spoke of the challenges ahead, including in terms of campus climate, and offered advice to her successor, which the Board of Regents is expected to select this month

“We are much more a state agency than an independent university, and that does create issues at times for all of us,” Blank said. “I think one of the biggest agenda items for my successor is to continue to work on some greater flexibilities so that we just have a little bit more room to maneuver.” 

One of the constraints, Blank said, includes having to receive approval from multiple Senate committees in order to get projects done. She particularly took issue with the university’s intense regulations in managing its facilities. 

“When concrete falls off a building here, I need to go through a process that takes months of approval as opposed to moving forward and getting the fixes done,” she said. “We just need far more flexibility in our ability to maintain our facilities, to build new facilities and to think forward about our capital structure.”

Blank also said she wished she’d gotten farther in improving diversity and inclusion. Initial results from the 2021 Campus Climate Survey, released Monday, show that three-quarters of students find UW-Madison to be a safe, welcoming and respectful place where they feel they belong. 

But students from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups rated the campus climate less highly than their peers. Still, their responses were broadly favorable and the gap in reported perceptions did not change from when the survey was last conducted in 2016.

“The good news,” Blank said, “is nothing got worse,” especially considering added challenges for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But it’s clear that there do remain gaps between more marginalized groups and their degree of satisfaction and their sense of belonging and comfort on this campus,” she added. “There's an unfinished agenda there.”

Similar to the 2016 survey, 15% of students in the fall 2021 semester said they seriously considered leaving UW-Madison. But among those who expressed this sentiment, 56% reported campus climate or culture as the reason for their decision — an increase from 40% in 2016. 

Other results from the 2021 survey, which had 13,400 respondents, reveal those who reported feeling “very” or “extremely” comfortable contacting the UW-Madison Police Department when they had a problem dropped from 53% in 2016 to 40% in 2021. 

Blank said she hopes the incoming chancellor, who will be selected among five finalists this month, will put together new projects and ideas to improve campus climate. She also advised that “persistence and stubbornness helps a lot” because some changes may take years to accomplish.  

“These problems are not problems that are going away, they're not issues that are going to get resolved by something you do next month,” she said. “My best advice for the next person is to play the long game — think about where you want to be and figure out how you get there.”

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