I’ve been asked by some readers for my thoughts on the resignation of Chancellor Biddy Martin, and her pending move to Amherst College.
My general sense is this: Martin’s making the move that is right for her. There is a place and time for everything, and she must’ve had a sense that her time here might not last much longer when she entered the search at Amherst last fall. She had more knowledge of the full dynamics at play in these Wisconsin debates than anyone, since she was allowed into more conversations with more players. She was looking ahead.
The job at Amherst is an enviable one. The past-president, Tony Marx, is one of the most thoughtful leaders of higher education in the nation. His efforts at value-driven decision-making have challenged traditions–traditions that favor institutional interests over student and state interests. I am especially impressed by his efforts to promote socioeconomic diversity by not only offering enormous amounts of financial aid but also practicing class-based affirmative action. Many institutions do only the former but not the latter since it’s the latter that makes the distribution of aid much more expensive. He used the advantages that come with being at an elite private institution to challenge the privileges the elites try to keep for themselves. Those are big shoes to fill.
Looking to the future I fervently hope that the search for a new UW-Madison chancellor will identify someone who thinks about both the institutional and student interests (and by students I mean all potential students not only those currently or previously enrolled) as well as the state’s interests, and how those often conflict. I hope we will be led by someone who understands and is fully committed to the unique values, qualities, and challenges facing public higher education– and who embraces its difficulties as opportunities, rather than resenting them. Public institutions should be recognized for the uncommon goods that they are, rather than treated like a dying breed that cannot be saved.