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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson is set to take on the UW System July 1 with support from University of Wisconsin leaders, who expect him to handle the uncertain environment well given his past experience. 

Former Wisconsin Governor will serve as UW System Interim President following withdrawal of final candidate

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was appointed Friday as Interim President of the UW System, effective July 1.

“I will be [the University of Wisconsin System’s] biggest advocate and its toughest evaluator,” Thompson promised. He is expected to hold the position for the next 18 months.

“His experience working in crisis situations, whether it be 9/11, anthrax, worldwide pandemics, he’s been tested,” UW System Board of Regents President Andrew Peterson said in his address to Channel 3000 News. This decision was also celebrated by State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

“I look forward to working with him to address the challenges facing UW-Madison and the UW System as we prepare to welcome students back to our campuses this fall,” Blank said in her reaction statement to the appointment. 

As Blank mentions, there are many challenges currently facing the UW System — most apparent of which is the COVID-19 crisis. Thompson is expected to ease the transition to in-person instruction safely due to his experience as the former U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services.

Many praised Thompson’s leadership style and his reputation for finding a common ground as Governor, and expect this to be useful in the next round of state budget negotiations. Like many universities navigating plans for reopening safely in the fall, the UW System anticipates financial cuts.

Thompson’s appointment was announced following the withdrawal of former candidate Jim Johnsen on June 12. Since Johnsen’s decision to withdraw from the position, he has also resigned from his current presidential position at the University of Alaska.

Johnsen was the only finalist for the position, but faced criticism from many, including Democratic lawmakers. These criticisms included claims regarding a lack of representation, diversity and transparency. 

In contrast, Thompson’s appointment was met with many positive responses, but there are still those who believe he is the wrong choice. 

“It’s yet another wasted opportunity to set our broken course straight,” Wisconsinite Catie DeMets said in her opinion piece for the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s not that I think the worst of the board or Thompson. It’s just that if any of them were actually listening, they would hear our deafening cries for transformative leadership in transformative times.”

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Emma Grenzebach

state news writer

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