Chancellor Martin leaving UW-Madison for presidency at Amherst College

Chancellor Biddy Martin announces that she is leaving UW-Madison to become the president at Amherst College during a news conference at Lathrop Hall on June 14, 2011. Martin plans to assume her new position at Amherst at the end of August. View more photos. Photo: Jeff Miller

June 14, 2011

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, who built a reputation as a visionary thinker and defender of the university’s role as global public research institution, announced today (Tuesday, June 14) that she’s leaving the university to become president of Amherst College.

Martin, who came full circle at UW-Madison when she became chancellor after earlier earning her doctoral degree here, made the announcement in an email to UW-Madison faculty, staff and students earlier today.

“The decision to leave UW-Madison is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made,” Martin said in the statement. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and am honored to have served as chancellor of this great institution.”

Martin’s term as UW-Madison chancellor will end in the coming weeks. She plans to assume her new position at Amherst, in Amherst, Mass., at the end of August.

Martin was named chancellor of UW-Madison on June 5, 2008. Among her many achievements in just three years at UW-Madison, the one with perhaps the most lasting impact was her push for a new business model for the university, which she called the New Badger Partnership.

Nearly two years ago, Martin recognized the state’s serious financial crisis and made a convincing case for new administrative flexibilities that would allow Wisconsin’s higher education institutions to better manage their limited resources.

Although the state Legislature decided not to adopt a provision that would have created a public authority for UW-Madison, Martin’s leadership helped lead to administrative changes approved as part of the budget by the Joint Committee on Finance. Those changes will offer an important first step toward granting all UW System institutions critical flexibility to manage their finances.

The new flexibilities mark a significant shift from previous budgets, which, in four of the last five biennia, have resulted solely in cuts to higher education in Wisconsin. They give UW institutions the opportunity to be better stewards of their resources.

With the debate about the New Badger Partnership, Martin launched a discussion about the importance of a public research university in a changing economy, one that will continue and will lead to new strategies for keeping Wisconsin institutions at the forefront. Through her work during the past three years, she has improved the relationship between UW-Madison and leaders in the state Capitol, spending time working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on matters important to higher education in Wisconsin.

Martin’s work on the New Badger Partnership followed close on the heels of her success in marshaling support from students, faculty, staff and the UW System Board of Regents for the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates — a tuition increase to support and improve the quality of undergraduate education offered at UW-Madison.

The initiative was intended to increase need-based financial aid through combination of tuition and private philanthropy, as well as to increase faculty positions in areas that had been hit in recent years by budget cuts or to clear bottlenecks in certain high-demand courses. It also served to help increase diversity among the faculty, improve student advising and encourage innovation in the curriculum.

Martin has had an especially strong relationship with UW-Madison’s students, proving her accessibility by spending time interacting with them directly on Twitter. Students also were deeply involved in decisions about how to spend the funds raised through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates.

Martin recognized UW-Madison’s reputation as an institution with increasing global reach; the university ranks 17th among world universities in an annual ranking done by Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University. Martin saw an opportunity to develop the university’s presence in China and forged relationships with universities, corporations and prospective UW-Madison students there. She also established the unique Chinese Champions Program, which offers premier Chinese athletes a non-degree academic program at UW-Madison to build their English, science, leadership and coaching skills.

Martin has made affordability and diversity core principles of her tenure. Working with the UW Foundation, Martin has pushed to increase annual giving by alumni and increased institutional grant aid by 226 percent, making it the university’s and UW Foundation’s highest priority.

At the same time, diversity has been part of each element of the university’s strategic plan. In addition to promoting diversity through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, diversity programs were held harmless from state budget cuts. Martin has allocated new funds to the Office of Student Financial Aid to recruit underrepresented minority students and has added funding to the Posse program; UW-Madison now has Posse scholars from more cities than any other college or university.

In response to a call from faculty for more effective administration of research, Martin and Provost Paul DeLuca launched significant changes in research administration structure and processes. The university is now searching for a new vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate School — a new position that will ensure compliance and increased support for the university’s research enterprise, which last year topped $1 billion for the first time.

And although Martin has been known for being fiercely protective of the university’s entire research enterprise, she was also the campus’ greatest ambassador for the humanities.

Martin launched the “Go Big Read” common-reading project, which has provided the entire campus — and Madison — community with an opportunity for a unique intellectual exchange. Each book generates a year-long discussion and set of related activities and is used in a large number of courses across disciplines.

The visit by Michael Pollan, in coordination with the reading of his book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” drew more than 6,000 people from campus and the community.

Martin reallocated state funding to provide 50 additional graduate fellowships for top humanities departments, and secured funding from WARF and the UW Foundation to support additional graduate student studies in the social sciences and humanities. Late last year, she worked with Don Randel, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and former Gov. Jim Doyle to raise $20 million in unrestricted funding for the humanities, with $10 million from the foundation matched by the state.

“These accomplishments during my time at UW-Madison have been the work of many hands,” Martin said. “And I believe that they will benefit UW-Madison for years to come.”

When Martin came to UW-Madison in 2008, she was already closely connected to the university, having received her doctorate in German literature from UW-Madison in 1985.

Before becoming UW-Madison chancellor, she spent eight years as provost at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She also served as senior associate dean in Cornell’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences, as well as a professor of German studies and women’s studies and chair of German studies from 1994-97.

Media advisory: Chancellor Martin will appear at a news conference at 1 p.m. in the Harrison Parlor at Lathrop Hall, 1050 University Ave., to discuss this announcement. For more information about the news conference, call 608-262-3571.

Editor’s note: High-resolution images of the chancellor are available for download.

Contact: Vince Sweeney, Vice Chancellor for University Relations, (608) 265-2822,

Media assistance: Stacy Forster, 608-262-0930,