Graduate Students

An Openly Gay Chancellor Heads to Madison, Wis.

May 29, 2008

Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin is about to become the nation’s most prominent openly gay college chief. The Cornell University provost is the choice to be the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s next chancellor, university officials announced on Wednesday.

In previous reporting, The Chronicle has been able to identify only 13 other openly gay college presidents or chancellors. (Added to the list are David Wain Coon, president of Evergreen Valley College, and Rosa G. Perez, chancellor of the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District.) Experts say governing boards have shied away from hiring gay presidents so as not to risk alienating older, more conservative donors or state lawmakers.

Ms. Martin, who is 57, will head by far the largest and most influential institution among this small group. She appears to be the only openly gay leader of a major public research university. (The late Denice D. Denton was chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz until her death, in 2006.)

Ms. Martin, a scholar of German literature, is the author of Femininity Played Straight: The Significance of Being Lesbian. As The Capital Times of Madison reported today, in 1994 she helped lead a successful push at Cornell to make health insurance and other benefits available to same-sex partners. However, the Wisconsin Legislature has not granted those benefits to employees at her new institution, according to the newspaper, despite repeated lobbying by university officials. —Paul Fain