On a table in the office of University of Wisconsin Chancellor Biddy Martin is a little white Badgers-themed piggybank. Interim Provost Julie Underwood gave Martin the piggy bank Wednesday morning as a way to help UW survive the state’s budget troubles.
Martin laughs after she says this, since she has a different thing in mind for raising money — a plan to increase tuition that will either succeed or die Thursday, when the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates is scheduled to go before the UW System Board of Regents.
At the end of her first year leading UW, Martin is busy going from event to event, stopping briefly to speak to The Badger Herald Wednesday between scooping out “Strawbiddy Swirl” to students and attending the grand opening of UW’s Art Lofts facility.
She says she thinks she has another event to attend as well, but she does not remember what it is.
At this point, she has lost track.
Sense of urgency needed
Introduced in March, the Madison Initiative has been the most significant project undertaken by the chancellor to date and has consumed much of her attention.
She has held multiple forums to get feedback, lobbied the Associated Students of Madison and even hosted a dinner at her home for student leaders. Now, after less than two months, the initiative will be voted on by the ultimate authority in the UW System.
On Wednesday, Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, released a statement calling on the regents to delay approval of the tuition hike. He said not enough information about the initiative is known and he would like all non-academic spending eliminated before the board passes the initiative.
Martin, on the other hand, disagrees with any delay.
“I think it’s urgent,” Martin said. “Especially with the more information I get about maybe an even bigger budget [shortfall], there’s no way we can afford to wait.”
Even before receiving the job as chancellor, Martin talked about the need for faculty recruitment and retention, a main focus of her administration.
Now that she has introduced her plan, she can only hope the Board of Regents agrees with her, or it is back to the drawing board after much effort.
“There’s a real need for more faculty, staff and financial aid very soon,” Martin said. “I’m not implying it’s a disaster … but it adds up to significant quality issues.”
At a crazy pace
Martin says the hectic year has not changed her sense of priorities for the job, but it has flushed out the details and given her a more complete picture of what is needed, compared to last summer.
She will not, however, have a full idea of how her expectations have changed until she gets more quiet time this summer.
“The pace is crazy,” Martin laughs. “It’s a real whirlwind kind of a 24/7 job, getting to know the needs of all the constituencies. Everyone wants something different.”
Martin has taken a different approach to the state government than former UW Chancellor John Wiley, who was criticized for being confrontational with the Legislature and slamming the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group for polarizing the Capitol.
Martin’s staff told her she has spent between 75 and 85 hours with legislators and the governor’s office, even reaching out to the WMC, trying to build working relationships.
The chancellor has also taken care of issues from early in her “freshman” year in a way she is comfortable with despite criticism, like the issues of hazing allegations within the UW Marching Band and the allegations of intimidation on the Athletic Board.
Martin said she anticipates being at UW for a while, at least “as long as I’m able to be effective.”
She even joked about possibly waiting to leave until she gets a statue dedicated to her on campus.
Sounds like she may be here a long while.