Campus Leadership

Leadership Transition

During a July news conference, David Ward (right) was announced as interim chancellor by UW System President Kevin Reilly (left). Ward “knows UW–Madison from the ground up,” Reilly said. Photo: Bryce Richter.

David Ward named UW–Madison’s interim chancellor after Biddy Martin moves on.

It has been fifty years since David Ward MS’62, PhD’63 first set foot on the UW–Madison campus. As a teaching assistant on a Fulbright scholarship from England, he planned to stay for a year, but, he says, “a whole variety of accidents” led to a UW career that spanned four decades.

“I felt that every year was a refreshing, new encounter, which says a great deal about UW–Madison,” Ward recently told On Wisconsin. “I was never bored. I was always challenged.”

That was never more the case than when Ward was appointed interim chancellor in July, following the departure of Biddy Martin PhD’85 to become president of Amherst College in Massachusetts. UW System President Kevin Reilly says he chose Ward because he “knows UW–Madison from the ground up,” and can serve as a strong advocate for the campus, bring people together, and reach out to his fellow UW System chancellors.

Being at the helm is familiar territory to Ward, who served as chancellor for seven years before leaving Madison in 2000 to become president of the American Council on Education (ACE), a Washington, D.C.-based national group focused on encouraging all sectors of higher education to “speak with one voice” on key issues. Ward, who retired from ACE in 2007, believes that his experience in that role will help him lead the university as it absorbs $47 million in state budget cuts this year.

“There is a national challenge, not just a Wisconsin challenge, of how to balance the great expectations of these research universities with the resources that are available,” he says. “I think that my experience in Washington will help me phrase this more broadly than just a Wisconsin dilemma.”

For more than a year, Martin made the case for the New Badger Partnership, a plan for administrative flexibilities that would allow the university to better manage its limited resources. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed creating a public authority to achieve those goals, effectively splitting UW–Madison from the rest of the UW System, but that proposal garnered little legislative support.

Martin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that controversy surrounding other budget issues, including Walker’s proposal to limit collective-bargaining rights for public employee unions, contributed to opposition to his UW plan. “If I had my way,” she said in an interview with the newspaper, “some of the political issues that emerged once Governor Walker became governor — and that really took up people’s attention and time — would not have happened right in the midst of our discussions of what would be good for the university.”

During her tenure as chancellor, Martin was arguably the UW’s greatest ambassador for the humanities. She launched the Go Big Read common-reading project, which sparked campus and community discussions. A visit by Michael Pollan, author of the book selected for the project’s first year, drew more than six thousand people from campus and the community.

The final state budget did include some provisions that Martin says are an important step toward granting all UW System institutions critical flexibility to manage their finances, and Ward agrees the changes that emerged from the bruising budget battle present an opportunity.

“I would like to take advantage of the new flexibilities that have been made available to us in the recent state budget bill and try to be positive in facing a challenging future, rather than looking backwards at what might have been,” he says. Ward also acknowledges that part of his role as interim chancellor is to bring about some balance after the political tumult of the last several months.


Top: Biddy Martin chats with students in 2008. In a farewell message, Martin said her interactions with students were “a deep pleasure that I will remember for the rest of my life.” Center: Calling upon the interactivity of social media, Martin (left) participates in a live web chat about the state budget with other top university administrators in February 2011. Bottom: The Go Big Read book selection is handed out to students at the Chancellor’s Convocation at the Kohl Center in September 2010.

UW System officials expect to have a new chancellor in place by next summer. A search-and-screen committee including UW–Madison faculty, staff, and students, and community representatives will conduct a national search and recommend finalists to Reilly and a special committee of the board of regents.

In the meantime, Ward wants to identify key campus initiatives that are under way and ensure they do not lose momentum. They include the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, a proposal Martin championed to increase need-based financial aid using a combination of private money and a tuition increase. The initiative also allowed the university to hire more faculty in areas hit in recent years by budget cuts and to clear bottlenecks in certain high-demand courses.

Ward says he also intends to continue efforts to elevate the UW’s profile internationally, particularly in China, where UW–Madison has forged relationships with universities, corporations, and prospective students.

A native of Manchester, England, Ward earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Leeds. Prior to being appointed chancellor at the UW, he served as the campus’s chair of the geography department, associate dean of the Graduate School, and vice chancellor for academic affairs, a position that in 1991 was paired with being provost, chief deputy to the chancellor.

“I’m actually quite excited [about being interim chancellor],” he says, “because I’m rediscovering and reengaging with that forty-year experience, and I feel very privileged that people thought I might be able to help out for a year.”

But Ward emphasizes that the coming months and years won’t be easy. “These are difficult times for all public research universities — we can’t gloss over it,” he says. “But I do think there is a very positive debate going on that can reconfigure our relationships with state government and higher education systems in such a way that we will come out of this turmoil okay.”

Published in the Fall 2011 issue


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