UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin's announcement on Tuesday that she would be leaving the university to become the president of Amherst College came as a huge surprise to most of the campus community. Martin announced her decision just days after the state legislature's Joint Finance Committee rejected the major proposals of her contentious new business model for the university, called the New Badger Partnership.
Martin, who had previously stated her intention to finish her career at UW-Madison, was regarded as an energetic, innovative leader. In particular, her commitment to being accessible to students made her immensely popular on campus. She maintained a widely read twitter account, made a cameo appearance in the "Teach Me How To Bucky" viral video and showed up at a huge snowball fight held during one of UW's snow days this past winter.
Hannah Ball, a biochemistry and Spanish double major, says she was surprised and saddened by Martin's announcement.
"She was highly respected," says Ball. "She's very modern, and students could relate to her."
Melissa Prom, a nursing major, says students greatly appreciated Martin "keeping us updated with everything that was going on at the Capitol. We got emails upon emails from her describing what was going on and explaining that she was trying to fight for us."
But Martin's New Badger Partnership proposal became a controversial issue on campus. Martin claimed that in order for UW-Madison to remain a highly competitive and attractive research institution the university would need more autonomy and flexibility in controlling its finances. Her proposal centered on UW-Madison separating from the UW System and adopting a public authority status.
UW System administrators and the Board of Regents denounced the initiative and it created significant tension between Martin and other UW System leaders. On June 3, the Joint Finance Committee rejected the proposal to create public authority status for UW-Madison but did enact some minor administrative changes aimed at granting all system campuses limited flexibilities from state oversight.
During Martin's press conference Tuesday, she declined to say how much the rejection of her proposal had caused her to accept the job at Amherst.
The Board of Regents, for their part, has maintained that Martin's decision was hers alone and that UW System administrators did not pressure her. When UW System President Kevin Reilly was asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel whether Martin was forced out by either him or the UW Board of Regents he stated, "Categorically, absolutely not. Not by me or anybody on the board."
But Janelle Jeter, a recent grad with an education and political science double major, thinks that the rejection of Martin's proposal led directly to her decision to leave.
"She bailed out," says Jeter. "When the New Badger Partnership didn't pass and she couldn't get approval from the Regents she bailed. She bailed on the students and on her university, and she gave us two months to find a new chancellor without any warning."
Jeter says until Martin proposed the New Badger Partnership, she had regarded her as an "amazing chancellor". She was unconvinced, however, by Martin's justifications for it, and skeptical of the urgency of the proposal. Jeter thinks the proposal would raise tuition to the point where it would have driven many students from Wisconsin to other states and schools.
Jeter thinks Martin's decision to leave so soon after the rejection of her proposal, "showed her lack of interest and lack of faith in the university."
In contrast, Sarah Neibart, a member of the Associated Students of Madison, says she's sad to see Martin leave but hasn't lost any respect for her.
"I think her departure has nothing to do with what I guess is some people's idea of failure of the proposal," Neibart says. "However, I see it as a success. I just think that she wanted more opportunities. Chancellor Martin has been an inspiration to myself and many of my peers. Her vision has driven this university so far, and I'm very sad to see her leaving."