Cap Times Editorial Board discusses Biddy Martin's departure

June 16, 2011
Cap Times Editorial Board

University of Wisconsin Chancellor Biddy Martin was, during her relatively short tenure as the head of the state’s flagship institution of higher learning, a relatively controversial figure.

That does not mean that Martin, who has announced that she will leave this summer to take over as president of Amherst College, was a bad player. She was, in many senses, an engaged and effective administrator. And we wish Martin well in her next endeavor.

But we hope that the next chancellor will be very different from the departing one.

Martin did not “get” Wisconsin, and that prevented her from playing the role she might have in shaping the UW’s future. Her attempts to radically restructure the Madison campus’s relationship with the rest of the UW System and with the state never really took off.

Why? Two reasons:

1. Martin never really won the confidence of the citizens of Wisconsin, the Legislature or the UW regents, and that made it difficult for her to “sell” the plans she proposed.

2. The plans seemed in too many ways to be aimed at making the UW an elite institution with fewer direct ties to Wisconsin.

The next chancellor will need to do a better job on both fronts. Put another way, the next chancellor should be an able educator and administrator who “gets” Wisconsin.

And central to getting Wisconsin is an understanding that the great state university of Wisconsin should remain a public institution with clear and deep ties to this state and its people — not an elite institution that just happens to be located in Madison.