Submitted on Wednesday, 5/16/2012, at 10:40 AM

Amherst College President Biddy Martin recently returned to her undergraduate alma mater, The College of William & Mary, to receive an honorary degree.

Martin, a 1973 graduate of William & Mary, was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the college’s commencement on May 13. William & Mary President Taylor Reveley and Chancellor Robert M. Gates also presented an honorary doctor of public service degree to fellow William & Mary alum Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. Broadcast news icon Jim Lehrer, former lead anchor for the Public Broadcasting System and a frequent moderator of presidential debates, delivered the Virginia college’s 2012 Commencement remarks.


A native of Campbell County, Va., Martin majored in English literature at William & Mary, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She spent her junior year studying abroad at Exeter University in England. During her senior year in 1972-73, Martin played for the women’s basketball team, averaging nearly nine points a game – including a season high of 17 points against Virginia Commonwealth University.

Following her time at William & Mary, Martin went on to earn a master’s degree in German literature from Middlebury College's program at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and received her Ph.D. from UW-Madison.

A distinguished scholar of German studies and the author of numerous articles and two books—one on a literary and cultural figure in the Freud circle, Lou Andreas-Salomé, and a second on gender theory—Martin served on the faculty of Cornell University for more than two decades. She began as an assistant professor of German studies and women’s studies, earned tenure in 1991, and eventually served as chair of the German studies department, senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and provost from 2000 to 2008. In the latter position, Martin was the president’s first deputy officer and reported to the president as Cornell’s chief educational officer and chief operating officer.

Martin was Cornell’s longest-serving provost, and accomplishments during her term included overseeing the construction of a $150 million life sciences building, increasing the stature of humanities research and education, implementing a sweeping financial aid initiative that replaced need-based loans with grants  for all undergraduate students from families with incomes under $75,000 and developing the university’s fundraising priorities for its $4 billion capital campaign.


As chancellor at UW-Madison, Martin led successful initiatives to increase need-based financial aid, improve undergraduate education and enhance research. The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates promoted student advising, innovations in undergraduate programs and faculty diversity. Martin also spearheaded an effort to gain greater operating flexibility and increased autonomy for Wisconsin’s flagship campus.

Martin was elected the 19th president of Amherst College in June 2011.

Photos: Stephen Salpukas, College of William & Mary