Office of Planning and Budgeting

Are Public U Presidents Paying a Price for Seeking Change?

Recent news has some wondering whether unsuccessful attempts by some public flagship institutions to obtain greater autonomy from the state, and in some cases from a larger university system, have led to negative consequences for the university presidents pushing for the reforms.

Having been strongly criticized by University of Wisconsin system officials and Chancellors for her leadership in working with Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to work out a deal that would allow the Madison campus to split off from the system and enjoy a considerable increase in management and financial autonomy, Chancellor Biddy Martin has announced that she is leaving UW Madison for Amherst College after only three years. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Martin claims that the failed attempt to separate the Madison campus from the system is not the reason she is leaving, although she does admit that the strain of budget cuts and politics of leading a large public university may have played some role in her departure.

It appears more clear that University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere, who also led a charge to separate his institution from the greater system, was punished for that effort as the State Board of Education made a point to renew his contract for only one year (when three is standard), and added conditions that he participate more in the efforts of the system as a whole.

Meanwhile, two other presidents of large public research institutions, the University of Arizona and the University of Massachusetts, are facing questions about their leadership over the past several tumultuous years.

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