Chancellor Biddy Martin’s message to campus

Chancellor Biddy Martin (right of center) and Dean of Students Lori Berquam (far right) chatted with students in front of the Kohl Center following the Chancellor's Convocation, an annual event that helps to kick off the academic year at UW-Madison. View more photos. Photo: Jeff Miller

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I write to inform you that I have accepted the presidency of Amherst College, and I will conclude my term as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison later this summer.

The decision to leave UW-Madison is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I love this university. 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. I will miss the extraordinary beauty of the campus, Madison’s lakes, my view of our students climbing Bascom Hill, the state’s majestic capitol building and my home at Olin House. More than anything, of course, I will miss you — the faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters of UW-Madison.

UW-Madison is one of the world’s public treasures, and it deserves the support of every citizen of the state and every branch of state government, just as the state deserves the benefits of having a great research university. I am proud of the fact that we have succeeded in moving the New Badger Partnership forward. The plan passed by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance takes a positive step toward allowing UW-Madison to adapt to changing circumstances, as it must, if it is to continue to flourish as one of America’s premier public universities. That is what the New Badger Partnership is designed to do.

The future of UW-Madison is bright because of the quality of its students, the caliber of its faculty, the professionalism of its staff, the loyalty of its alumni, the generosity of its donors, the university’s commitment to the people of Wisconsin and the public’s devotion to the university. The Wisconsin Idea was born at UW-Madison and has distinguished it for a century. It will always define this university, and I will always be honored to have been part of it.

I feel lucky to have glimpsed the future of interdisciplinary scientific innovation in the faculty who now do their work in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and in the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research. I am fortunate to have witnessed the social interactions that are highlighted and enabled by the new Union South, to have helped attract the public-private match in support of the humanities, and to have celebrated the academic successes of so many faculty, staff and students. I will miss the community-wide discussions of the books we have read together, student performances of all sorts, watching football games from the sidelines and shooting free throws in the Kohl Center. My memories of our victories over previously unbeaten Ohio State at Camp Randall and again at the Kohl Center this past year will remain vivid forever. I will never forget how to Bucky.

It is a privilege to be a Badger.

In the end, I have made the very difficult decision to leave a place I love for an institution that I have long admired because of what I consider to be a unique opportunity. I was educated in the liberal arts at the College of William and Mary, and I am deeply in its debt. There are a wide variety of forces arrayed against the benefits of the liberal arts today, yet I believe fervently in the importance of a national commitment to the fundamentals — a broad and integrated education in the arts and the sciences. The strength of American higher education is its diversity, and the continued success of the American experiment, depends on the accessibility of many forms of advanced learning. As we consider the future of the United States and its place in the world, technology, innovation and medical breakthroughs are all essential, and a great research university with UW-Madison’s mission will continue to produce them. Great liberal arts education is also critical to ensuring these very achievements and guaranteeing that they are continually renewed.

Education and research in the fundamentals of the sciences, humanities, arts and social sciences provide the foundation on which so many other forms of learning and practical solutions depend. Preserving and enhancing these fundamentals is our best hope for citizens who are prepared to answer questions of meaning and value, even as they contribute to the global economy, to education, to scientific discovery, to cultural diplomacy and to a renewal of our political institutions. We need leaders who understand how these domains are interrelated, who can think about them in their complexity, who can push the boundaries of language and other media, and who care about creating opportunity at a time when economic and social disparities threaten to tear apart the fabric of our democracy.

Amherst is the premier model of the kind of liberal arts education we need to nurture and propagate, and I want to play a role in promoting it. It is among the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, as well as being among the most selective; it has shown that inclusiveness and excellence are complementary, not contradictory. Its faculty has an unwavering devotion to the intimate art of teaching, even as its members pursue advanced research across a broad range of endeavors. The integration of research and teaching is one of Amherst’s hallmarks. Further, the college seeks to inculcate the ideal of service and public engagement in its graduates, whatever walk of life they may pursue. For liberal arts education as a whole, Amherst College is pointing the way by its actions. The chance to combine my belief in the transformative potential of the liberal arts with the presidency of the leading liberal arts college in the country is the best opportunity I can imagine. I would have left UW-Madison at this point for no other school and considered no other. I look forward to teaching Amherst’s students, supporting its great faculty, working closely with its dedicated staff, engaging with its vibrant alumni community and leading the college’s ongoing efforts to serve as a model of quality, diversity and invigorating intellectual exchange.

At a moment such as this, it is hard not to cast a look backward — and forward. I am delighted that Wisconsin’s great flagship will move into the years ahead with new kinds of flexibility as it takes significant steps toward the operational autonomy it needs. I hope that a future chancellor will pick up the effort as political circumstances permit. When I arrived in 2008, I drew on what I learned from you, using that information to articulate a number of goals: successful recruitment and retention of faculty, which would be enabled only if we found new ways to ensure we could provide competitive pay; enhanced administrative infrastructure for this amazing research enterprise; tuition at the median of our public peers with significantly increased need-based financial aid; transformations in undergraduate education to ensure that our students reap the benefits of studying at a world-class research institution; increased diversity among students, faculty and staff; a stronger international presence; invigoration of the Wisconsin Idea; improved communications and relations with the public; and new developments in our operational model that would keep pace with rapid changes in higher education financing. With the increases to faculty salaries at the point of promotion, assistance with compression issues and the achievements of the New Badger Partnership, the university will be in a better position to support its faculty and staff. The organizational changes to research administration will help ensure that UW-Madison’s extraordinary research enterprise continues to thrive. Our still relatively new Office of University Relations has enhanced our reach and strengthened our relationships.

I am especially proud of our success at increasing the financial aid available to our students, adding faculty and staff in areas that our students need, and improving undergraduate education through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates. We have increased institutional grant aid by 226 percent. Though there is still a long way to go, the Great People Scholarship campaign is poised to generate a great deal more support. UW-Madison can price itself in way that combines average tuition with outstanding quality, and I hope it will. The Class of 2016 will include a larger number and percentage of targeted minority students. Our presence in China and the opportunities it has created for our faculty, staff and students are a source of particular satisfaction to me. These accomplishments have been the work of many hands. They will pay off for years to come.

UW-Madison students: You have been a complete joy. Our interactions, whether serious or fun, have been a deep pleasure that I will remember for the rest my life. I will miss you enormously and think fondly of everything from our book discussions, our interactions on matters of governance, your indulgence of my dog Oscar, your sense of humor and your signature jump around.

UW-Madison faculty and staff: I will continue to be inspired by the quality of your research and scholarship, your dedication to teaching, your support of our core mission, your commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and the entrepreneurial spirit that helps make this such a unique place. I will remember fondly and miss so many in the university and Madison communities, more than I can possibly say.

Finally, I am happy to point out that by assuming the presidency of a Division III institution, I can remain an unconflicted — indeed, a rabid — Badger fan forever, and I look forward both to seeing the UW take home the Paul Bunyan Axe once again and to seeing Amherst beat Williams at their 126th meeting this fall.

I thank all of you for your support and your contributions to UW-Madison, and I wish everyone well.

Chancellor Biddy Martin