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What Goes Around, Comes Around For Biddy

There's an interesting subtext to Biddy Martin being named Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. You see, Martin is a gay American, and while at Cornell, it wasn't exactly a secret, but it also wasn't well publicized fact. (Although you don't need a degree from Cornell to draw the conclusion from reading the title of one of Martin's books.)

But over in the Badger State, this fact has been getting a lot of press, in part because she will be the most powerful gay public figure in academia, but also because Wisconsin is the only school in the Big 10 to not offer domestic partner benefits:

Martin now finds herself days away from being appointed the next chancellor at UW-Madison, which still doesn't provide domestic partner benefits despite years of attempts by UW officials to secure such benefits from the state Legislature.

"I certainly think it's an important thing to have, and I believe that the university's recruitment and retention of staff and faculty depends on benefits of that sort," said Martin in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday.

"Domestic partner benefits are, in my view, a matter of fairness but also a matter of competitiveness," added Martin, who, if confirmed by the Board of Regents next week, would be the first openly gay chancellor to lead Wisconsin's flagship university...

Although Martin made it clear she believed it was important to make domestic partner benefits available to keep the university competitive with its peers, she stopped short of saying she would make the issue a top priority when she takes over at UW-Madison on Sept. 1.

"Well, to be honest I believe UW-Madison and the system is on record, already, as supporting domestic partner benefits, and I will certainly join my colleagues in that support," said Martin.

So Martin isn't going to make it a top priority at Wisconsin. But in an interesting twist of history, it may have been this very policy that kept Martin at Cornell, allowing her to become the provost of dear Alma Mater in the first place:

A faculty member from Cornell, Biddy Martin, was offered a senior faculty position at UW and finally declined, partly due to the partner benefits issue; she later became the Provost at Cornell.

Late Update:Apparently the above claim is false, and Biddy never turned down Wisconsin for lack of domestic partner benefits, citing only "personal reasons".

Needless to say, it will interesting to see how Biddy approaches the domestic benefits issue at Wisconsin.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on June 02, 2008 (#)

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