Northwestern President-elect and former University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank shared her cancer diagnosis Monday morning. Credit: Northwestern University

Northwestern University’s President-elect Rebecca M. Blank announced Monday morning that she will no longer be able to succeed Morton Schapiro as president after learning last week that she has “an aggressive form of cancer,” according to an email she sent to the community.

In the meantime, Schapiro, who announced in 2021 that he would retire on Aug. 31, 2022 after 13 years as president, has agreed to stay in the role while the board of trustees launches a new search process for his replacement, outgoing Board Chair J. Landis Martin said in a statement.

“This letter is among the most difficult and painful I have ever written. Today was supposed to be my first day on campus as President-elect, in anticipation of succeeding Morton Schapiro as your next president on Sept. 1,” Blank wrote in her email announcing the news. “Last week, I learned that I have an aggressive form of cancer, which will require all my strength and resolve to fight, prohibiting me from being able to serve as your next president.”

In an article published by Northwestern Now, the university shared that Blank and her husband will return to the Madison, Wisconsin area for her treatment. Blank concluded an eight-year tenure as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May, and she also taught economics courses at Northwestern from 1989 to 1999 earlier in her career.

“I do not have the words to express to you how disappointed and sad I am to be telling you this. I was excited to be joining you at Northwestern, a world-class institution that is near and dear to my heart,” Blank said. “As heartbreaking as this is for me, I take solace in knowing Northwestern is in great hands. Although I have not been on campus full-time, I have had the opportunity to talk with many campus leaders over the past eight months. It is clear that NU has tremendous leadership, outstanding faculty and staff, and a wonderful group of students.” 

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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