Northwestern University president-elect Rebecca Blank, who was set to become the University’s 17th president in September, announced in a statement Monday morning that she will not be assuming the role, a move that sent shockwaves throughout the Northwestern community.
Blank, who was scheduled to begin her roles as president-elect Monday, announced in an email to the student body that due to receiving diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer – one “will require all her strength and resolve to fight,” according to the statement – she will not be able to serve in the duties as University president, formally stepping away from Northwestern before her term even began.
“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 in the statement. “I have always been able to deliver this in previous jobs, but my doctors advise me that the treatments I am starting will make it almost impossible to do the job you need in a new president.”
In a statement released minutes after Blank’s, university officials announced that in light of the announcement, current president Morton Schapiro will delay his retirement and stay within the role until a successor is appointed by the Board of Trustees. Peter Barris, who led the initial search committee that selected Blank, will stay in his role as committee leader and help guide the search for another president-elect. The statement also said they’ll announce more information about the committee’s new efforts in the coming weeks.
“Our thoughts are with Rebecca and her family during this difficult time,” J. Landis Martin, chair of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “We are appreciative of the time that she served as our president-elect, and we know she is thankful for the care and support of the entire Northwestern community.”
Blank’s sudden departure comes nine months to the day after it was announced that she would become the University’s next president after previously serving as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a move that was met with mixed reactions from both Northwestern and Wisconsin students. Blank, a well-known economist, had previously served as one of the first tenured women in Northwestern’s economics department and was set to make history as the institution’s first woman president after being unanimously recommended and selected by the previous search committee.
“The committee found Chancellor Blank to be unparalleled and impressive in her power to articulate a comprehensive and unifying vision across Northwestern’s constituencies and inspire as a proven collaborative and bold leader,” Barris said, in a statement announcing Blank’s arrival in the role. “She is a distinguished scholar and visionary leader… her proven ability to lead a collaborative academic research enterprise will guide our institution toward greater eminence and impact.”
Now, nine months later, the University will continue its search for a new president that can offer the same litany of leadership and experience. In the meantime, both the Board and University officials wished their best to Blank, who will now begin aggressive treatment to fight her cancer.
“I am grieving the lost opportunities to work with all of you across campus to make Northwestern even better in the years ahead,” Blank said in her departure statement. “But I remain just as excited for you and for the institution as I was when I accepted Northwestern’s invitation to be your next president. I will continue to cheer you every step of the way as you continue forward.”
This story will be updated with more information as it becomes available.