Sunday, June 01, 2008

Out lesbian leads R1 public school

Well, well, the tide is turning, the "glass closet" is breaking, and the future looks brighter for openly lesbian women aspiring to the top positions in (public) higher ed administration. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is hiring Cornell Provost Biddy Martin to be its new Chancellor.

Now some of you may recall that Donna Shalala, now President of (private) University of Miami, had been the Chancellor at Wisconsin from 1987-1993. Her sexual orientation has long been discussed and, according to an article from the SF Chronicle, was not a big secret to many, including those folks she worked with in the Clinton administration, where she was Secretary of Health and Human Services. But it is a long way from Shalala's version of lesbian "openness" (i.e., remaining unnamed) to Martin's version.

An article from the Chicago Tribune notes that Martin is a professor of women's studies and German studies who wrote the 1995 book, "Femininity Played Straight: The Significance of Being Lesbian." She is quoted as saying the book, a collection of essays, represents her "attempts to make articulate my lesbianism and other forms of my queerness in ways that refuse invisibility ... and yet resist making queerness all-defining." (Okay, you know she is of a different age and background when she is using the word "queer.") As we know, this balance between recognizing and valuing one's sexual orientation without limiting oneself to only that component of one's identity, is a challenge to all openly LGBT people. I am sure it is somewhat galling, therefore, that all of the coverage of Martin's selection as UW Chancellor has been some variation of "New hire to be first open lesbian leader at large state school."

Nonetheless, I am sure that the faculty are happy for a variety of reasons, as we often are, based on our own agendas and values. One Women's Studies professor noted, for example, that she is excited that Martin has a humanities background and a commitment to undergraduate education. I am sure the Board of Regents is more excited about her other accomplishments at Cornell:

she helped raise $110 million for a life science building, developed a program to make financial aid available to middle- and low-income students, and put together a retention plan for faculty, a current issue at UW-Madison due to its relatively low pay scale for professors, at least when compared to peer institutions.
You can see Martin in action, giving a state of the university speech at Cornell last year, by clicking here. The speech was so good that she got a standing ovation when she finished. (FYI, I have been in academe for more than 20 years, and I have not heard a standing ovation for one of these speeches...ever!)

I have never met Biddy Martin, but I certainly hope I will someday. She looks like a very nice person, not that you can always tell from a picture. And, can I say from my own lesbo-perspective, she is both impressive and adorable!

1 comment:

The AstroDyke said...

Interesting that they hired an LGBTQ chancellor before getting DP benefits.