Newly appointed University of Wisconsin Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin started her tenure as UW’s 30th leader on Aug. 4.
In a tweet, Mnookin summarized her first day as “exhilarating” and emphasized her commitment to learning, growing and listening to the student community. In a May 2022 press conference, Mnookin said that she would first focus on becoming acquainted with UW culture before enacting change.
“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,” Mnookin said in the press conference.
Associated Students of Madison Chair Ndemazea Fonkem said she appreciates Mnookin’s enthusiastic efforts to interact and bond with students thus far. The chancellor has worked collaboratively with ASM, speaking with the students regularly.
“The chancellor is making a point to interact with students who otherwise would have no idea that she existed,” Fonkem said. “I think I personally have interacted with her four or five times.”
Mnookin is succeeding in her efforts to be present and has made a concerted effort to meet with student government and hear everyone’s opinions, according to Fonkem.
On her first day, Mnookin met with media outlets, leaders from UW’s 13 schools and colleges, faculty and students, according to UW News.
According to University Communications Director of Media Relations Kelly Tyrell, Mnookin is committed to learning what it means to be Badger and to subscribe to the Wisconsin Idea — the belief that the boundaries of the university extend past academics and into the greater community.
“I know that she is deeply interested in really learning more about Wisconsin and learning more about the university,” Tyrrell said. “As the state’s flagship university, we have a deep responsibility to serve the state of Wisconsin and to serve our community, and I think that’s something she takes very seriously.”
On her second day, Mnookin met with local elected officials including Rep. Francesca Hong and Dane County Board Chair Patrick Miles to discuss university, regional and statewide goals. Mnookin also toured the South Madison Partnership and the Urban League of Greater Madison, according to UW News.
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So far, Mnookin has followed through on one of the primary objectives she laid out in a live-streamed interview with the Wisconsin Alumni Association in June — promoting excellence, affordability and accessibility.
UW sits beyond national averages, with student loan debt down from national averages. Two-thirds of UW students graduate debt free — in contrast to only 52.8% of undergraduates nationwide owe money, according to the Education Data Initiative.
“I know that Chancellor Mnookin wants to make certain that UW-Madison continues to provide the best educational experiences for students at the lowest possible cost,” Tyrell said.
Mnookin plans to build on this progress and strengthen Bucky’s Tuition Promise — a program that provides scholarships and grants to Wisconsin residents whose households earn $60,000 or less, Tyrrell said.
The new chancellor’s efforts to make higher education more affordable will benefit students for years to come, according to Fonkem.
Mnookin has also made strides in collaborating to integrate UW throughout the greater Madison community. On Aug. 11, she met on Madison’s South Side with the founder of The Center for Black Excellence and Culture Rev. Alex Gee. The center is projected to be a nucleus for people striving for Black excellence and Gee hopes to collaborate with UW on research conducted at the center, according to UW News.
That same day, Mnookin also visited One City Elementary School, a tuition-free public charter school in Madison enabled by the University of Wisconsin System’s Office of Educational Opportunity.
Mnookin will build on former Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s work, furthering initiatives such as the Public History Project, which seeks to elevate historically marginalized voices and educate students and alumni about the full picture of the university’s past, both successes and failures, Fonkem said.
Fonkem also said Mnookin understands achieving diversity goes deeper than stock photos depicting a diverse campus environment.
It will take more than a month to evaluate Mnookin’s approach to the office, according to Fonkem. But Fonkem is hopeful that Mnookin will serve the students and faculty of UW and citizens of Wisconsin well.
“She cares about our campus being honest about what it is and taking the steps to improve that, and I like that initiative,” Fonkem said. “I’m hopeful.”