University of Wisconsin Chancellor-designee Jennifer Mnookin introduced herself and answered questions in a press conference Tuesday morning.
UW System Board of Regents Vice President Karen Walsh, who co-chaired the search process, also took questions about the chancellor’s appointment. Vice Chancellor for University Relations Charlie Hoslet moderated the session.
At the beginning of the press conference, Mnookin introduced herself and shared her personal and professional background.
Mnookin, current Dean of the School of Law at University of California, Los Angeles, expressed excitement about the new position because of her personal interest and experience with public higher education. Mnookin mentioned that the Wisconsin Idea drew her to UW.
“I’ve long admired the University of Wisconsin, especially the Wisconsin Idea — the notion that what great public universities should do is to matter beyond their borders, to be of service to the state as a whole [and] to care about creating knowledge that can really make a difference,” Mnookin said. “I think that’s just an incredible and inspiring vision.”
Following her introduction, Mnookin answered questions about her appointment and goals as chancellor of UW. The questions included a wide range of topics that considered the impact of this role on the students at the university and the state of Wisconsin.
When asked about specific initiatives she plans to take on campus, Mnookin stressed the importance of listening to those around her in order to gauge the campus climate on various topics rather than immediately implementing new policies.
“I do have ideas,” Mnookin said. “But what I also know is that I need to come, listen and hear how my ideas interact and intersect with exciting initiatives already taking place. I think it’s really important that in my first couple of months I [do] a lot of listening and thinking and then bring my ideas together with the ideas of others to help move the university forward.”
Mnookin said she will use this approach to face campus-specific concerns but did not comment on specific plans of action she will take to address university shortcomings.
Mnookin said she did not have sufficient knowledge to state how she will address longstanding concerns at UW regarding support for underrepresented students, low rates of diversity on campus and services for survivors of sexual assault.
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Mnookin was also asked about academic freedom and the impact it has on Wisconsin at large.
“I’m a strong supporter of free speech in universities,” Mnookin said. “I think it’s very important for all ideas to be able to be engaged with and thought about. [It’s a] part of how students and faculty learn and come to develop their own views.”
Mnookin said she hopes to build upon the work of Chancellor Blank in all sectors.
The center of her work, Mnookin said, is fostering an environment where students from all backgrounds feel welcomed.
“This isn’t even just about race, ethnicity, political ideology, gender or sexual orientation,” Mnookin said. “It’s also about a sense of belonging and feeling like this institution is a place that supports you and [a place] where you can feel included.”