Rebecca Blank, who led the University of Wisconsin-Madison as chancellor for nearly a decade, died February 18 after a seven-month battle with cancer. Remembrances of Dr. Blank and eulogies that mark her passing will surely be ubiquitous in social science circles for some time, and this is for good reason: she was a deeply humane and important academic professional who distinguished herself over the course of her career as one of the leading labor economists of our time. As a senior government official she shepherded policy that brought enormous pro-social benefits to her nation, and as a university president she was heralded as one of the most important academic leaders of public universities in recent memory. To our Academy, she was a cherished colleague and counselor, who was generous with her time, and always helpful with her learned insight. Among the many awards and honors bestowed on her, Blank was the 2015 recipient of AAPSS’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize.
Blank attended the University of Minnesota and received her Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She served as a faculty member at Northwestern University for a decade and as dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Blank published close to 100 articles and several books, with much of her best-known work centered on improving the measurement of poverty. She also focused on the interactions between low-income labor markets, macroeconomics and government policy. She was a senior staff member on the Council of Economic Advisors under George H. W. Bush’s administration and also served as a member of the council during Bill Clinton’s administration. She was also a key member of President Obama’s economic team.
“Dr. Blank’s four years serving in my administration was just one part of her extraordinary life,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement on her passing. “Whether in government or academia, she devoted her career to reducing inequality and increasing opportunities for others, and made everyone around her better.”