In May of 2022, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank will leave Madison and become the Chancellor of Northwestern.
Good for her, I guess, since she will make more than two times her current salary after a couple of years, but in the meantime we’ll need to find someone new for Madison. The question is then, who would be a good fit?
Before diving into the essential qualities of a good fitting candidate, we should think about some of the things Blank has done right so we can properly evaluate positive traits to look for in the next chancellor. Most of the things she did best were related to the finances, which makes sense considering her background in economics.
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The most progressive thing Blank did was help institute the Badger Tuition Promise, which guaranteed free tuition for everyone whose parents make less than $60,000 a year. This was a great step to help more people that were previously unable to attend UW because of financial difficulties.
Though there is obviously a debate around the idea of “Free College for All,” very few people think students should be restricted from attending college altogether because it is too expensive, and this measure helps solve that problem.
One argument against the Badger Promise might be that it decreases funds to the university, but Blank was great at fundraising, too. Since 2015, she raised over $4 billion with the “All Ways Forward” fundraising campaign. This is an amazing accomplishment, and that amount of money will be able to help UW grow and develop as an institution of higher education.
Blank was really good with finances, ensuring that more people could attend the university while still maintaining enough money to run UW as a world class institution. Whoever the next chancellor is should have the same focus. Though every student might not think about those things day to day, they make for a better learning environment.
So, as head of a university, you should know your way around a budget, but what else? Whoever the next chancellor is should also embody the mission of UW — “to discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this institution, future generations and improve the quality of life for all.”
I think a simpler way of putting it would be to say to discover, unpack, understand and communicate the truth. We need a chancellor that in the modern day can help every student and faculty member get to the cutting edge of truth and discover new realities about our world.
This means our next chancellor needs to prioritize research and giving money to our science departments so they do not have to rely solely on grant funding. This way, instead of our researchers and PhD students having to focus on money, they can conduct their work and strive to better understand the world to pursue the true mission of UW.
So far, the two main criteria I have for the next chancellor are that they can help fund UW and make knowledge diffusion their first priority in guiding the academics of the university. A few less important criteria I would say would make great qualities in a new chancellor include hiring someone young, creative and bright. All of these are important in our ever-changing educational environment.
The last two smaller criteria I have for the next chancellor are that they are creative and bright. Even before COVID-19, we were in a time of incredible change. Social media is barely 10 years old and is already replacing many of our old institutions, such as many newspapers, television and media outlets. Before that, we had barely had ten years of the internet.
Who knows what new technologies will make an impact over the next 10 or 20 years, and we need a chancellor able to help cultivate creative and smart solutions to the problems those technologies might create. If some of the university is backed by technology that is just five, ten, or 15 years old, it will be already out of date and we need a chancellor able to make and establish new systems that are ever growing and changing.
I’ve listed a lot of criteria, but I think we should try to pull from many different fields for a new chancellor. Not only could they come from an academic field, but I think someone from a more practical background could work as well. Many people in the realm of startups, non-profits and business could make effective chancellors for our university.
Hopefully, whoever they choose can help UW prosper in the ever-changing landscape of the twenty-first century.
Jonathan Draeger ([email protected]) is a freshman studying economics.