The University of Wisconsin System’s flagship campus will be welcoming a new chancellor this fall.
Cornell University Provost Biddy Martin begins later this summer, filling the spot left vacant by outgoing chancellor John Wiley.
Martin, who obtained a Ph.D. in German literature from UW in 1985, was appointed to the chancellor position early June by the UW System Board of Regents after a series of campus visits and interviews with students, faculty, staff and government officials.
Martin said while she has yet to meet campus leaders to set an agenda for the upcoming academic year, she has a list of priorities she wants to emphasize in order to enhance excellence of education, research and outreach at UW.
Among Martin’s priorities include improving faculty and staff recruitment and retention, student access to higher education, financial aid and diversity.
“One of the great appeals of a public institution is to remain affordable, and affordability is something I want to stress and make a high priority,” Martin said, adding she wants to ensure tuition is not a barrier to students attending UW.
Yet, before Martin officially takes center stage in September, some Republican legislators have started to question her appointment and beliefs. Martin, UW’s first openly gay leader, has been criticized for her academic work as a professor focused on gay, lesbian and transgender educational issues.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, raised concerns about Martin’s selection because of her views as a women’s studies professor and authorship of “Femininity Played Straight: The Significance of Being Lesbian.”
Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said in June he was concerned because Martin’s administrative record “shows a tremendous amount of focus on a politically correct agenda and an excessive focus on diversity issues.”
“The people of Wisconsin want a public university that educates based on a model of sifting and winnowing to obtain fact,” Nass said in a statement. “They don’t want a university promoting the liberal indoctrination of young minds at the altar of political correctness.”
Still, Nass said he would support Martin provided she leads the university according to the educational values of taxpayers.
Martin said her job is not political, but she intends to ensure the university offers space for people to pursue ideas free of political pressure or political influence.
“What I expect and hope is that I will be accepted fairly on the basis of my experience as an administrator, and not on political ground,” Martin said.
In July, the Associated Press reported Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle interviewed the four finalists in May, raising questions as to whether the governor had any influence in Martin’s selection.
But UW System Board of Regents Vice President Chuck Pruitt said he had no problem with the governor speaking with the finalists.
Pruitt, a member of the Board of Regents’ UW-Madison chancellor search committee, said the finalists met with students, faculty, staff and legislators.
“It is very appropriate that Gov. Doyle conversed with the finalists,” Pruitt said. “He was one of many people to weigh in on the decision.”
Doyle spokesperson Lee Sensenbrenner said Doyle had no involvement in the selection process but wanted to begin building a relationship with the future chancellor.
Pruitt said he is confident Martin is ready to move UW forward. Referring to Martin as a “nationally recognized leader,” Pruitt said she will build her own legacy, and Doyle shared the same sentiments.
“Through wise and dedicated leadership, the University of Wisconsin has grown to become our country’s largest public research institution, and I welcome Dr. Martin to a role that is so vital for our state,” Doyle said in a statement. “I am confident she will use her expertise to carry UW-Madison, her alma mater, forward.”
An editing error in the original copy was corrected. “University of Wisconsin System” lacked the word “system.”