Rebecca Blank (UW-Madison photo)

Northwestern University’s incoming president has withdrawn from the job on what would have been her first day on campus as president-elect.

In a message to the NU community, Rebecca Blank said that 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.”

Blank, who had been chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the past eight years, will return to Madison for her cancer treatment.

“I do not have the words to express to you how disappointed and sad I am” to tell Northwestern of her diagnosis and need to step down, Blank said. Her actual tenure as president was to begin September 1.

Blank was to replace Morton Schapiro, who has agreed to stay on as president until a replacement for Blank is named.

No timetable has been announced for that.

“I ask that all of us at Northwestern keep Becky in our thoughts,” Schapiro said in a statement. “I will be offering prayers for healing at Shabbat services until her full recovery.”

Blank, 66, was on the economics faculty at Northwestern from 1989-99,and was also director of the Joint Center for Poverty Research, and co-director of the NU/University of Chicago Interdisciplinary Training Program in Poverty, Race, and Underclass issues.

Her daughter Emily is a Northwestern graduate.

In Madison, UW Provost and Interim Chancellor John Karl said, “I can speak for all of us in the leadership of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in saying that we’re absolutely devastated by the news that Chancellor Emeritus Becky Blank has been diagnosed with cancer and will not be assuming the presidency of Northwestern University.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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