Carolyn “Biddy” Martin became the 19th president of Amherst College in June 2011 and assumed her official duties in August. She had previously served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2008 and as provost of Cornell University from 2000 to 2008.
Martin grew up in then-rural Campbell County, Va., where she held, for several years, the Brookville High School basketball team’s scoring record. As she explained in a recent video interview, her family “worried that, especially for girls, higher education might be a negative force.” But with support from teachers and guidance counselors, she applied to colleges and graduated from high school as valedictorian. She went on to The College of William & Mary, where she majored in English literature and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and where faculty encouragement and scholarships she received made her “a passionate advocate of access, affordability and great education.” While earning an M.A. in German literature from Middlebury College’s program in Mainz, Germany, she worked part-time as a nurse’s aide in an Altersheim (retirement home), offered occasional German classes at an American army base in Wiesbaden and was a tutor for an after-school program. She earned a Ph.D. in German literature, in 1985, from UW-Madison.
Martin began at Cornell as an instructor and then assistant professor of German studies and women’s studies, earned tenure in 1991, chaired the Department of German Studies and became senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. She helped lead a major reorganization of Cornell’s life sciences before beginning her term as provost. As Cornell’s longest-serving provost, Martin oversaw the construction of a $150 million life sciences building, helped increase the stature of humanities research and education and developed the university’s fundraising priorities for its $4 billion capital campaign. She also implemented an initiative that replaced need-based loans with grants for all undergraduates from families with incomes less than $75,000.
As chancellor at UW-Madison, Martin led successful efforts to increase need-based financial aid, improve undergraduate education and enhance research. She launched the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates to promote student advising, innovations in undergraduate programs and faculty diversity, adding 80 faculty positions to offset the impact of earlier budget cuts on undergraduate education. She also spearheaded an effort toward greater operating flexibility and increased autonomy for Wisconsin’s flagship campus.
Martin is the author of numerous scholarly articles and two books, Woman and Modernity: The Lifestyles of Lou Andreas-Salomé (1991) and Femininity Played Straight: The Significance of Being Lesbian (1996).
A lover of athletics and poetry, Martin shares her home with a toy poodle named Oscar.