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Carolyn "Biddy" Martin '73 named chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Madison

June 13, 2008


Photo by Jeff Miller/Cornell

She started her career in higher education at William and Mary. And now Carolyn "Biddy" Martin '73 has been selected by the search committee and unanimously approved by the Board of Regents of University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) to serve as their new chancellor.

"I'm delighted and honored to have been recommended for the chancellorship at UW-Madison," Martin said during a telephone press conference at Cornell University, where she has served as the provost, or chief academic officer, for the past eight years. She leaves Cornell to return to UW-Madison, where she earned her Ph.D. in German literature in 1985. She will take over as the 28th leader of UW-Madison after being confirmed by the school's Board of Regents.

Through the years, Martin has built a reputation as a highly skilled and intelligent leader, both reasons why UW-Madison has selected her as their next chancellor, the equivalent to William and Mary's president.

The image of Martin as the brilliant and focused administrator is much different from her early days of College life at William and Mary. She admits that she had not an inkling that something like this would happen in her future as she studied English in the early 1970s.

"It was not obvious that I would attend college, so I was focused on taking advantage of the liberal arts education and the friendships that the College offered," said Martin. "If I look at the relationship between where I started and the position I am about to assume, I am surprised, delighted and deeply grateful.

"I was able to attend college because William and Mary is a public institution and was affordable for my family. It provided a great education. I had faculty like Morris Rabinowitz and Elsa Diduk, inside and outside of the classroom, who encouraged me to pursue an academic career and helped me apply to graduate school."

Martin told reporters at Cornell that a top priority of her administration at UW-Madison will be to increase financial aid opportunities for students. She will also work to boost salaries for faculty, something that she did successfully in her role as provost for Cornell. But, in addition, some of what Martin wants to implement comes directly from what she learned at William and Mary.

"An initiative [that] I modeled on my experience at William and Mary [was] the new student reading project for all entering students at Cornell," said Martin. "We were required to read Silent Spring in the summer before our freshman year and discuss it in small groups with faculty members. At Cornell this has become a community-wide event that includes not only our faculty, staff, and students, but also alumni, the Ithaca community, and a number of high schools in New York state."

And as word of Martin's appointment spread through the academic world, Cornell, the state of Wisconsin and her own alma mater were quick to praise Martin and her ascension.

"Biddy's years as provost have been characterized, above all, by her principled actions," said G. Peter Lepage, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell, where she has served for 24 years. "She makes decisions that are formulated in the context of our fundamental institutional values. She has courage, guided by integrity."

"I welcome Dr. Martin to a role that is so vital to our state," said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. "I am confident that she will use her expertise to carry UW-Madison forward."

And at the original starting point for a career that would take her to the top of the academic world, Interim President W. Taylor Reveley III summed up Martin's accomplishment.

"It's grand to see that a William and Mary alumna, Class of 1973, will lead UW-Madison," said Reveley. "Those of us in Williamsburg will bask in her reflected glory."

In a way, her move to UW-Madison is the ultimate tribute for the College. She will lead, educate and inspire the faculty, students and staff of UW-Madison in the very same way that she was inspired and educated in Williamsburg.

"My experience [at the College] made me passionate about access and affordability, academic excellence, great teaching and advising, and research as a career," said Martin.

And for the current students and recent graduates of her alma mater, she has the following message for those who wish to follow in her footsteps:

"I would advise them to be intellectually curious, work hard, and to pursue work for which they have a passion."

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