Higher education leader, scholar and pioneer Carolyn “Biddy” Martin ’73, L.H.D. ’12 will speak at William & Mary’s 2023 Opening Convocation Aug. 30.

Martin’s career spans nearly four decades and includes top leadership positions at Cornell University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Amherst College. In 2011, Martin was named the first woman president of Amherst and served in that position for more than a decade. In 2012, W&M presented Martin with an honorary degree during its Commencement ceremony. 

Opening Convocation, which takes place on the first day of undergraduate classes, is an annual tradition that celebrates new undergraduate and graduate students and marks the beginning of their lifelong connections to the university. The ceremony begins at 7:15 p.m. in the Wren Yard.

This academic year, William & Mary will continue its 300th anniversary commemoration of the Brafferton building and the Indian School it housed, examining the university’s history with local Indian tribes while also strengthening its longstanding ties to those same communities today. The university will also launch its Year of the Arts, a community-wide celebration of artistic accomplishments at W&M with programs that will be bolstered by the completion of work on the fine and performing arts facilities.

“We have in Dr. Martin a trailblazing alumna, an accomplished professional and an unwavering advocate for broad-based, multidisciplinary education. Dr. Martin exemplifies the impact of a W&M education, distinguished by personalized learning with world-class faculty,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “We are pleased that Dr. Martin will return to alma mater to inspire our new students.

“W&M welcomes this impressive new cohort at an exciting time. The university is advancing our Vision 2026 strategic goals to evolve to excel and expand our reach with transformations in student living and learning and the dedication of our glorious new Arts Quarter. We look forward to seeing our newest students flourish.”

Martin grew up near Lynchburg, Virginia, in Campbell County. While she was a student at William & Mary, she studied English literature and spent a year studying abroad at the University of Oxford’s Exeter College. Her senior year, she played basketball.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Martin received a Master of Arts in German literature from Middlebury College’s program at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and she earned a doctorate in German literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She began her academic career at Cornell and spent two decades there as a faculty member in German studies and women’s studies, eventually becoming chair of the German studies department and senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2000, she became the first woman provost of Cornell, serving as its chief educational officer and chief operating officer. As provost, she oversaw the development of a $150 million life sciences building and implemented a financial aid initiative that replaced need-based loans with grants and developed fundraising priorities for a $4 billion campaign.

After becoming the longest-serving provost Cornell, she became chancellor at UW-Madison, where she had earned her doctorate. While in that position, she led initiatives to increase need-based financial aid, improve undergraduate education and research and gain more autonomy for the flagship campus.

In 2011, she joined Amherst as its 19th president. In addition to being the first woman to serve in that role, Martin was the college’s first lesbian president. Her accomplishments at Amherst include hiring more than 100 new tenure-line faculty members, growing the endowment to approximately $3.7 billion, spearheading the college’s most successful fundraising campaign and completing a long list of capital projects, among other achievements. She retired in 2022.

Martin is a celebrated scholar of German studies and author of several books and articles. She has been a member of the Harvard Corporation since 2018. Last academic year, Martin was a member of the president-in-residence program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This November, she will join the advisory board of the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received honorary degrees from the University of North Carolina and Williams College in addition to William & Mary.

, Senior Associate Director of University News