In the eyes of Rebecca Blank, the acting Secretary of Commerce and one of four finalists in the Chancellor search and screen, a federal agency is not unlike the University of Wisconsin.
UW’s Chancellor Search and Screen Committee announced Blank among three other academic finalists late Thursday evening, narrowing down the year long search.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Blank, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s economic team, expressed her interest in economics and its relevance to the university.
Blank said she spent much of the past two years thinking about the issue of American competitiveness, a concept which she says ties in directly with higher education.
According to the United States Department of Commerce, under Obama, Blank has been working to increase the United States’ competitiveness in job creation, innovation in the business sector and overseas competition.
All of these areas of concentration and the path to a stronger American economy, Blank said, can be solved with two factors, one of which are big research universities.
“In the long run [there are] only two things that matter,” Blank said. “A skilled work force and research institutions on [the] cutting edge of innovation.”
In many ways, Blank said, much of the Department of Commerce is not unlike a university, citing the creation of budgets and the idea of setting a mission and strategy.
“[This] hopefully will provide a good background for the kind of leadership that the University of Wisconsin needs,” Blank said.
According to a UW statement, Blank’s involvement with the DOC began in 2009, where she served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs.
However, despite her time away from academics — she was previously connected with both Northwestern University and the University of Michigan — Blank said she looks forward to returning to higher education.
During her time away from the university environment, Blank said she gained an enormous appreciation for what universities do and why they are so important for American society.
Blank said as chancellor she would want to step into a listening position in order to work collaboratively and help put out a vision. With this, Blank said one of the attractions of Wisconsin is its strong presence of faculty governance, adding such an environment is ideal for “moving forward with goals.”
“[UW is] a world-class university and you can feel that on campus and that goes along with a group of students and alumni that are proud of that,” Blank said. “People are proud of being a part of the University of Wisconsin or coming from there.”
In addition, Blank added she sees many opportunities to make the university even stronger and hopes to be able to act on them.
Such goals, some of which stem from her economic background, include increasing efficiency with information technology in an effort to make the university a more global attraction and looking into emerging facets of the university, such as online education.
Blank said the whole idea of innovation is the idea of taking research and moving it from the lab to the market place, adding she will look into what UW is doing at its Institutes for Discovery and find ways to expand opportunities into the community and marketplace.
She also emphasized the importance of effectively using new technology in the classroom, highlighting social media as a way to create connections on campus for the students and in other parts of the world.
“Formal online classes [are] only one in which new information technologies are changing the way we think about education and the opportunities we have in the new educational environment to link people together and have them learn more in new ways,” Blank said.
In line with her international perspective, Blank also drew attention towards the importance of educating students for a global world.
Down the line, Blank added, she too would love to teach a course related to economics, noting it is important to be in the classroom to get to know students.
Blank said her prior experience at state universities is proof she knows something about what motivates faculty and what it feels like inside of a classroom.
“The University of Wisconsin is obviously a world-class university,” Blank said. “Given my interest in going back into higher education, the University of Wisconsin is a stellar opportunity and I am honored to be one of the finalists.”