University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor-designate Jennifer Mnookin said Tuesday that helping students of all races and ethnicities feel like they belong on campus will be one of her top priorities.
Mnookin, currently the Dean of the Law School at UCLA, will take the helm at the UW system’s flagship campus this summer as current chancellor Rebecca Blank departs to become president at Northwestern University. She will be the 30th consecutive white chancellor in the school’s 174-year history.
“Questions of belonging and EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) have been very important to me in my role at UCLA,” she said during a media availability on Tuesday. “And I absolutely will bring that set of priorities and values to this new role. I think it’s tremendously important to try to help everybody who’s part of UW Madison feel like they belong, I would emphasize this notion of belonging. We all are, we all are different. We come with different backgrounds, different identities, different characteristics. And we often have multiple identities and characteristics. And so this isn’t even just about race, or ethnicity, or political idea, ideology, or any gender or sexual orientation. It’s not about any one of these things. It’s also about a sense of belonging and feeling like this institution is a place that supports you and where you can feel included. And that’s a set of priorities and values I will absolutely be bringing to this role.”
UW System officials said of the 37 candidates for the job, 16 were people of color. Four of the five finalists recommended by the search committee were white; one was Asian American.
Board of Regents vice chair Karen Walsh, who co-chaired the search committee, noted that the committee itself was quite diverse and questions around equity and inclusion were central to the search process.
“I think Chancellor Blank has said explicitly that one of the areas she wishes she had made more progress in was EDI,” Walsh said. “So we were looking for thoughtful, innovative approaches. And Chancellor Mnookin has that to heart. So we feel confident putting those efforts in her hands as a driving force for that. And as you know, the search committee itself was quite diverse. We had a good diverse pool. But Chancellor Mnookin stood out in terms of her energy and her approach surrounding EDI in what she might do in Madison.”
Mnookin also responded to criticism from Republican legislators such as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who called her a “woke radical,” and others who have spoken out against what they call “critical race theory.”
“I am a big believer in a big tent approach to ideas in a university,” Mnookin said. “I think that freedom of speech is incredibly important. And we need to create spaces for ideas of all different kinds to be heard of the dialogue within universities. I think that’s part of what universities are for.”
Walsh said she’d welcome a meeting with Vos.