Tommy Thompson
Op Ed

Let Us Run the UW System

We answer to the Board of Regents and are responsible of the health of students. Let us do our job.

By - Aug 24th, 2021 04:03 pm
UWM Sandburg Residence Halls. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

UWM Sandburg Residence Halls. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

The University of Wisconsin System owns a critical responsibility to open our classrooms this September to deliver the in-person education students deserve and parents expect. And we are planning to do just that. Unfortunately, some want us to ignore our unambiguous authority and duty under Wisconsin law to protect the “health, safety, and welfare of the university.”

As soon as I accepted the UW System Presidency in July 2020, I put my experience as former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Wisconsin Governor to work, with chancellors, to ensure we keep our universities open and safe. Together over the last 14 months we have been Johnny-on-the-spot, building a robust student testing program, cultivating a culture of responsibility on campus, and providing tests and vaccinations to Wisconsin residents – steps praised by some of the top federal health officials and scientists.

The contention that the University does not have this authority is not only wrong, but also incredibly problematic as we bring students back to campus. The UW System is not required to seek political approval for every internal management decision, nor should it. The UW System is governed by the Board of Regents, an 18-member group with 16 members appointed by governors of both political parties. The Board hires the System president and the chancellors. It establishes policies for the UW System and engages in statutory rulemaking when necessary. We control access to our buildings and facilities.

Our authority, as exercised by our universities in requiring masking and testing, enabled us to succeed last academic year, when our on-campus COVID-19 prevalence rates were significantly below state rates. In fact, testing and masking at this summer’s UW youth programs enabled us to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, allowing us to serve approximately 40,000 students at universities across the state.

At a time when students and staff want assurances that where they live, work, and study will be healthy and safe, we must be nimble. Our talented faculty are rightly concerned about the environment they will be teaching in, and the uncertainty caused by this effort is troublesome. Last academic year, the legislature provided tacit acknowledgment for our nationally recognized mitigation steps. The endgame of these new efforts to control our universities would put at risk staff, students, and the businesses that count on our universities to be open, safe, and vibrant.

The effort to block the UW System’s authority is both wrong on the law and wrong as a matter of public policy. Had this happened last academic year, the University might never have been able to set up community testing and vaccination sites, or even isolate sick students. It would have been a disaster. I have no plans to abdicate our responsibility.

Tommy Thompson, President, University of Wisconsin System.

5 thoughts on “Op Ed: Let Us Run the UW System”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Not that I agreed with much of your policies, and when you ran against Tammy Baldwin you soiled your name, but now you’ll be considered an ultra liberal socialist communist bleeding heart liberal Democrat, etc…

    Thanks for having a back bone.

  2. sbaldwin001 says:

    I completely agree, but here are my questions:

    1) Was the decision by UW-Milwaukee to use ARP funds for debt forgiveness approved at the system level? If not, then why not?

    2) Regardless of where the decision was made, why has there been no publication of the criteria used as well as publication of the data on who (without revealing individual identity) received the money along with their family income bracket and family wealth bracket?

    3) Last, does the Board of Regents, as officials appointed by the governor rather than elected by citizens, feel they should be making decisions on debt forgiveness using public funds? (Keep in mind, debt forgiveness is not like a student loan or a grant. Loans are repaid, and grants are usually given to students with the most academic potential.)

    Please know that I am asking these questions with respect. I am an ordinary citizen – not a lawyer, politician or university official, and I would appreciate the well-explained perspectives of those with greater experience and expertise in these matters.

    Also know that I am not entirely opposed to debt forgiveness, but I feel that maybe it should be approved by a publicly elected legislative body and maybe it should apply to schools beyond the UW System as well. After all, the UW schools at least do a good job of giving educational value for the dollar. There are a lot of former students out there with debt from schools that have given them very little education for their money.

  3. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Debt forgiveness for all.

    The real villains are the wealthy and corporations that get huge tax breaks from their butter boys the Republicans.

    Debt forgiveness is pennies compared to the wealthy donors tax breaks.

  4. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Tommy Thompson complains about the Wisconsin Republicans that are trying to put Wisconsin college student’s lives in danger from COVID-19.

    And then Tommy Thompson will go to the voting booth and cast his ballot for the same evil Republicans that he’s complaining about.

    Tommy Thompson… worthless Hypocrite.

  5. lccfccoop2 says:

    Right man in the right place at the right time. I’m a dem, but I admire Thompson for taking this stand. He had nothing to lose politically and he has the credibility to pull off the defiance of crazy rebuts in legislature.

    Plus, I think he’s right on the law.

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