Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson Resigns Role As President of UW-System
It won't be official until March 18, but Interim Tommy Thompson is resigning his position as Interim President of the UW-System. The announcement ends Thompson's 18 month period - overseeing Wisconsin's university system through the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thompson - Wisconsin's longest serving Governor, with four terms spanning 1987 to 2001 - also spent time in Washington, D.C. as the Secretary of Health and Human Services under U.S. President George W. Bush - from 2001 to 2005.
The move appears to be regulatory, as the announcement was issued on the date that the UW-System Board of Regents met in a closed door session to begin work on selecting finalists under a second search to serve as President.
Thompson came into the interim position 18 months ago when a highly-publicized and criticized search process for a Board President came to a halt. Critics argued that there had been a "lack of input from students and faculty members". Thompson entered the job to fill the position until the opportunity to pick up the search could continue.
Serving as the UW-System President allowed the popular former Governor the chance to continue to serve a state that he loves. Thompson shared in his resignation letter:
"I love Wisconsin As you have heard me profess on many occasions, I believe the University of Wisconsin System is among our state's greatest assets, second only to its people. I have worked relentlessly over the past 18 months to lead this organization and put the Wisconsin Idea into action to improve the lives of all Wisconinites."
Even though his role was interim in nature, that didn't prevent Thompson from giving it his all. His term saw the university system through the pandemic; one highly-publicized angle to that was Thompson's use of a sledgehammer in social media videos to "smash COVID".
As was typical during his days as Governor, the Republican Thompson earned praise from colleagues representing both political parties. When news broke of his resignation, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted:
"His priorities were to give students a world-class education by upgrading and providing programs to help them succeed now and in the future During this 18 months leading the organization, he faced challenges no president had experienced before. He tackled them head on and continued to provide quality education, maximizing in-person learning for the students of the UW-System."
Meanwhile, across the aisle, Democrat Greta Neubauer added:
"President Tommy Thompson led the University of Wisconsin System through the last 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, steering the ship with a steady hand through a rapidly changing landscape. The University of Wisconsin System is one of our state's greatest assets, providing our students with a world-class education and prioritizing innovation for the benefit of Wisconsin as a whole. Present Thompson has been a steadfast champion for the Wisconsin Idea and I am very grateful for his work strengthening the relationship between the Legislature and the UW System."
The list of finalized candidates to officially fill the President's chair is expected sometime soon. Observers anticipate that a new President will be in place before the fall elections.