University of Wisconsin Chancellor Martin Leaves Madison Campus for Greater Autonomy as President of Amherst College

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] After a bid to earn more autonomy for the University of Wisconsin failed, Chancellor Biddy Martin decided to take her somewhere with the institutional freedom she had been seeking. On Tuesday, Martin accepted an offer to become President at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

“The decision to leave UW-Madison is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I love this university,” Martin wrote in an email to students and faculty Tuesday morning. “I loved it when I was a student. I was shaped by its lively intellectual culture and by its great teachers, from Klaus Berghahn to Elaine Marks and George Mosse. It has been a joy to be back and an honor to serve as its chancellor.”

Martin had been served as the leader of the UW system’s flagship campus for three years before announcing her departure. She was the school’s second female leader of the UW, and notwithstanding interim chancellors, Martin’s tenure at helm of UW-Madison shortest since William Hamilton Sewell 1967-1968.

This move comes just weeks after a plan to separate UW-Madison from the UW System died in the legislature. The move would have provided the campus with the autonomy to make decisions over items such as employee hiring and firing, human resource issues, and capital projects across school grounds. However, it would have left all other UW campuses under the umbrella authority of the Board of Regents and quickly came under fire through administration across the UW System.

This plan, created jointly by Martin and Governor Scott Walker, was known as the New Badger Partnership. It was shot down while another strategy, the Wisconsin Idea Partnership gained steam in its place. The Partnership aims to extend limited freedoms to all UW campuses rather than just the state’s largest university. Though this plan has been met with greater acceptance across Wisconsin, it has yet to be voted through in the legislature.

Now, Martin will have the opportunity run a university with greater control and administrative freedom at Amherst College. The Massachusetts campus is a private institution with an endowment of $1.386 billion and just over 1,700 undergraduate students. Comparatively, UW-Madison boasts an endowment of approximately $1.6 billion and nearly 29,000 undergrads.

When asked whether or not the tension of the recent atmosphere in Madison played a role in her decision to leave, Martin responded that it would be “foolhardy” to suggest that her experiences over the past year had no effect on her choice.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will begin working immediately to fill the void left by the Chancellor’s departure. What role this will have on upcoming legislation involving the UW System and its Board of Regents has yet to be determined.