The Kathryn Martin you've never known

On a damp August morning, UMD Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin stood facing an expanse of green. She was alone on the driving range at Northland Country Club. With each swing, her ferocious drives gained in strength, the ball traveling farther into t...

University of Minnesota-Duluth Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin jokes around with resident assistant Jared Dyrdahl of Kenyon, Minn. during move-in day on the UMD campus last Thursday.

On a damp August morning, UMD Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin stood facing an expanse of green.

She was alone on the driving range at Northland Country Club. With each swing, her ferocious drives gained in strength, the ball traveling farther into the distance.

Much like her time at the University of Minnesota Duluth, that strength has propelled the university to new heights. It also has given her a reputation as an intimidating woman.

"Part of it is my voice," Martin said in an interview. "Part of it is my stature. I am a confident woman."

Since 2000, 11 buildings have been built, renovated or have begun construction. Since 1995 -- the year she became chancellor -- enrollment has increased by more than 3,000. Doctoral and master's degree programs have been added and millions of dollars have been raised.


As she nears the end of her career, Martin, 68, isn't done yet.

Two more buildings are in the pipeline. She can tick off issues she wants to tackle and programs she wants to expand. She hasn't said when she will retire, but she has begun thinking about it this year.

To many, Martin's legacy will be one of inspiring women, creating a more modern campus and finding money for scholarships.

Martin's talent for securing money from donors is well known, along with her passion for UMD women's hockey. Who can forget the infamous water bottle incident of 2004, where she was accused of spraying water on the bench of the Ohio State Buckeyes hockey team during physical play on the ice? (It was later ruled accidental, and Martin made a public apology.) She was a driving force behind making women's hockey possible at UMD, advocating for a team to help the university become compliant with Title IX laws.

"She inspires me, and I think many women, to stand in the fire and not shrink back," said Shannon Miller, coach of the UMD women's hockey team. "It's a lot tougher go for a woman, whether it's in the academic world or the athletic world. She makes tough decisions and tries to do the right thing."

'never give up'

Martin was born in Rhinelander, Wis., where she grew up with two brothers and a sister. Her parents were both educators. The family loved to spend time at their cabin in Eagle River, Wis., and as a teen Martin played tennis and golf competitively. Education was highly valued in her family, along with creativity. Martin earned a master's degree in directing from Indiana State University and a doctor of education degree from the University of San Francisco. She spent time at an Indiana convent while she was a dean at Wayne State University and the University of Montana.

"It was an order very dedicated to education," she said. "They were very supportive."


During that time she met Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who left a deep impression on her.

"She was always pushing you," Martin said. "If there were apples on the ground she'd say: 'Pick up those apples for people who have nothing to eat. Why do you need two pairs of shoes?' I was in awe of people like that."

Her proudest moment was becoming chancellor of UMD and following the advice of her parents to never give up.

"It's simplistic, but my parents raised us that way," she said. "It's advice that has been reiterated a thousand different ways as I've grown older."

Before UMD, Martin was dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where her love of architecture grew. To her, UMD's campus in 1995 was "ugly," and ideas already were brewing to improve its look.

Her power

Martin's leadership style is commanding. She doesn't appear to suffer fools.

"She's very direct and very forward-thinking and 'Let's move ahead' as opposed to 'Let's talk about it too long,' " said Vince Magnuson, vice chancellor for academic affairs and a 41-year UMD employee. "Her style would be to make a decision and get it done."


Martin holds a powerful position in a society that isn't always prepared for women in those roles in higher education -- even now, she said. When she became a fine arts dean in 1979, she would attend conferences where she was the only female college administrator.

"I never wanted people to think I couldn't do it," she said.

Martin is sometimes criticized for her passion for UMD women's hockey. Coach Miller says that's an unfair assessment, considering male presidents at colleges nationwide show excitement about winning men's basketball and football programs.

Martin avoids argumentative confrontation, saying she usually will walk away rather than engage. She can become impatient with people who don't agree with her, and she likes goals to be accomplished quickly.

At University of Minnesota regent meetings, "She's articulate and passionate and she presents a very good case for getting system and regental support for activities at UMD," said Dr. Patricia Simmons, chairwoman of the Board of Regents and a physician at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "Chancellor Martin has terrific presence."

As for her success with fundraising, new construction and programs, Martin says she only generates ideas and others help carry them out.

"I become nervous when people say, 'What you have done.' We've done it," she said.

JANA HOLLINGSWORTH covers higher education. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at jhollingsworth@

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