Wisconsin Public Radio

Tommy Thompson Named Interim UW System President

Former governor comes in after a controversial search process that lost its top candidate.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jun 19th, 2020 12:15 pm
Tommy Thompson. Photo courtesy of the UW System.

Tommy Thompson. Photo courtesy of the UW System.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, 78, has been hired as the interim president of the University of Wisconsin System. He will begin his term July 1, allowing current UW President Ray Cross to follow through on retirement plans announced last year.

The UW Board of Regents held a special meeting Thursday afternoon and entered a closed session to discuss interim leaders. Thompson’s entrance into UW System administration comes after a failed search for a replacement for Cross, who has served as UW System president since 2014.

In November, Board of Regents President Drew Petersen appointed a nine-member committee to search for Cross’ replacement. The committee was heavily criticized by faculty shared governance groups for not including any non-regent students, faculty or staff.

On June 2, the search committee announced a single finalist for the UW System president job. That also drew criticism from shared governance groups and Democratic state lawmakers. The finalist, University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen then withdrew from the running June 12, hours before the regents special committee was set to vote on recommending him for the job.

Thompson is the only governor in the state’s history to serve four terms. He also served as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush.

In a UW System press release, Thompson said no other institution in Wisconsin is a bigger economic driver than the state’s 26 universities and branch campuses.

“The University of Wisconsin System is the state’s most valuable asset, and I will be its biggest advocate and its toughest evaluator,” Thompson said.

Petersen said he asked Thompson to serve as the interim head of the UW because of his “Legacy of bringing people together and finding common ground.”

“Gov. Thompson is a statesman who offers the kind of leadership the UW System needs right now,” Petersen said. “I have witnessed his collaborative yet direct leadership style. He is perfectly suited to serve as interim president.”

Thompson was born in Elroy and earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from UW-Madison. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1966 and was first elected governor in 1986 serving until February 2001. He is currently a senior fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center and chairman and CEO of Thompson Holdings.

In a press release, Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, praised regents for choosing Thompson as interim president.

“I could not be happier with the Board of Regents’ pick,” said Fitzgerald. “Governor Thompson has always been one of the University of Wisconsin System’s strongest advocates. As we face unprecedented times, there is nobody better to step in and make sure Wisconsin’s prized universities continue to thrive.”

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, echoed that praise when he tweeted that Thompson “is an innovator, collaborator and one of Wisconsin’s finest leaders.”

Thompson has requested to be paid the minimum salary for the UW System President job, which is $489,334. He will remain employed until a new president is hired and takes office.

The UW System release said the Board of Regents “will not commence a search for a permanent president for at least a year.”

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

Tommy Thompson Hired As Interim UW System President was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

One thought on “Tommy Thompson Named Interim UW System President”

  1. blurondo says:

    It’s encouraging to see Wisconsin’s top two legislative Republicans give high marks to a 78 year old who is taking on such a critical job. Undoubtedly, this should benefit 78 year old Joe Biden, too.

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