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UW-Madison chancellor finalists meet the press
Gary Sandefur, Biddy Martin, Tim Mulcahy, and Rebecca Blank: Priorities are similar but styles diverge
Gary D. Sandefur (upper left), Carolyn 'Biddy' Martin (upper right), R. Timothy Mulcahy (lower left), and Rebecca Blank (lower right) are the four finalists for the UW-Madison Chancellorship.
Gary D. Sandefur (upper left), Carolyn 'Biddy' Martin (upper right), R. Timothy Mulcahy (lower left), and Rebecca Blank (lower right) are the four finalists for the UW-Madison Chancellorship.

As UW-Madison's academic year comes to a close, its future leadership is the focus of a Chancellor search that has been underway since February. The UW Board of Regents will pick a replacement for UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, who is leaving in September, at its meeting early next month in Milwaukee. On consecutive days this week, the final four candidates -- out of more than 50 applicants -- took part in meet-and-greets at Memorial Union.

All four identified the same top priorities: raising faculty salaries, putting extra effort into fundraising and corporate sponsorship, and maintaining the university's status as a premier research institution. But they differed in nuance and style. The Daily Page was there to size up each candidate's selling points and setbacks.

Gary Sandefur
Current Dean of the UW-Madison's College of Letters and Science; B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1974, sociology; Ph.D., Stanford University, 1978, sociology.

Sandefur is the only candidate now employed by the UW-Madison, although two others have close ties. He exudes calmness and confidence -- perhaps overconfidence -- in his ability to fill the chancellor position. In his meet-and-greet on May 12, he offered little in the way of concrete ideas.

The university, he said, must focus on "training the future professoriate of the world" and "continue doing great research." But Sandefur came up empty-handed when asked for specifics on how to achieve these goals.

He also had no suggestions for improving diversity on campus, despite a three-year stint as director of UW-Madison's American Indian Studies program, and no program to follow the now-lapsed Plan 2008, the university's ten-year diversity initiative.

Carolyn "Biddy" Martin
Current provost of Cornell University; B.A., College of William and Mary, 1973, English literature; M.A., Middlebury College, 1974, German literature; Ph.D. UW-Madison, 1985, German literature.

At her meet and greet on May 13, Martin argued that her status as an outsider (although she did get her doctorate from the UW-Madison) could be an asset, in that she would bring a fresh perspective.

She stressed the importance of the arts and humanities, areas that often seem neglected at large research universities. On diversity, Martin said her goal would be to raise levels across the board -- students, faculty and nonacademic staff -- so minorities do not feel isolated.

At one point, Martin was asked by a student reporter, "Will you accept this job if it is offered to you?" Martin hesitated, and gave a waffling answer: "I believe it is premature to say that.... But I would certainly be very pleased if it were offered to me."

One reason for her hesitancy might be the UW-Madison's lower salaries, compared with Cornell University.

R. Timothy Mulcahy
Current vice president for Research at the University of Minnesota; B.A., University of Rochester, 1973, biology; Ph.D., UW-Madison, 1979, pathology and radiological sciences.

At his event on May 14, Mulcahy emerged as the most forceful advocate for change. He aggressively encouraged competition with other universities for research funding, faculty and staff, and other resources, and called for cutting "superfluous" programs, if necessary.

"If we sit still, they're going to eat our lunch," he warned.

But despite this hard line for change, Mulcahy offered few specifics, peppering his "sound bites," as even he called them, with buzzwords like "retrospection" and "value proposition."

Mulcahy also emphasized "accountability," suggesting that he agreed that the university must convince state lawmakers and others it is using its resources wisely. Not a bad idea.

Rebecca Blank
Current professor of public policy and economics at University of Michigan and co-director of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy's National Poverty Center; former dean of the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; B.S., University of Minnesota, 1976, economics; Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1983, economics.

Despite being the only candidate with no ties to UW-Madison, Blank seemed well versed on its issues. She stressed that the university must take a multi-faceted, well-executed approach to solving its retention-rate issues and lack of resources.

Enumerating state funds, tuition, research funding and gifts and endowment as the four principal areas of income, Blank stressed, "You've got to work on all those fronts -- tuition is just as important as fundraising."

But Blank raised a few eyebrows when she suggested that UW's tuition is too low, compared to other schools of its caliber. And she neglected to acknowledge that federal and state budget decisions outside of the university's control are key factors in setting tuition. Given that the UW's segregated fees and base tuition have gone up considerably in recent years, Blank may be asking a little too much of the state's top students.

As the UW Board of Regents' meeting in the first week of June looms closer, the candidates for chancellor will have a little more time to formulate solid, functioning ideas for the state's flagship institution. The UW-Madison Chancellor hiring committee chair will brief a Special Regents' Committee on campus and community feedback about all four candidates, all of whom will be interviewed once again by this committee and UW System administrators. The full Board will subsequently appoint the new chancellor on June 6.

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