The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents announced University of California, Los Angeles Law School Dean Jennifer Mnookin as their selection for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s chancellor last month.
Mnookin replaces Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who announced her plans to step down last October to take up a new role as President of Northwestern University.
The decision comes at a crucial point for the Regents, half of whom were appointed by Gov. Tony Evers and have not been confirmed by the Senate. The unconfirmed Evers appointees could be replaced if the Republicans manage to flip the Governor's seat in the 2022 election.
Faculty members and Democratic lawmakers spoke highly of Mnookin throughout the selection process. UW Board of Regents President Edmund Manydeeds III told The Cap Times last month that Mnookin was the "right selection.”
“She was able to give us just a little bit more of an indication that she was aware of many facets in Wisconsin and the shareholders at the UW-Madison campus," Manydeeds added.
However, members of the Wisconsin GOP were quick to challenge Mnookin’s legitimacy following the May announcement.
“I am disappointed in the Board of Regents’ blatant partisan selection of Dr. Mnookin as the next leader for UW-Madison,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a statement. “You quickly find she wholeheartedly supports critical race theory being taught on campus [and] is in favor of widespread vaccine mandates.”
“If the Board of Regents truly believes that Mnookin is the best choice, then the next Republican governor and Legislature should find it impossible to provide more taxpayer dollars or allow the Board to increase tuition,” added Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), a longtime critic of the UW System.
Wisconsin GOP members previously threatened to take away funding from the UW System over controversial topics. Republican lawmakers also encouraged System leaders to distribute a “free speech” survey this fall that was previously delayed due to campus community concerns.
"It’s a free country and people can say what they want and honestly I don't take those comments very seriously," Regent Vice President Karen Walsh said in response to GOP reactions. "I would like for those folks to meet Chancellor Mnookin before they threaten our funding. I don’t think they really intend to do that. I think they're much more interested in sitting in a room with us and talking about our differences.”
The decision to select Mnookin was unanimous and included the votes of Regents selected by the former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Mnookin did not seem bothered by the controversy, commenting that she plans to “reach out to everybody and to talk to those who are game to talk to [her].”
“I look forward to creating constructive and productive relationships,” Mnookin stressed.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.