Op Ed

Keep Tommy As UW System President

He’s been a great success. Why not keep him on the job?

By - Sep 16th, 2021 10:22 am
Tommy Thompson. Photo courtesy of the UW System.

Tommy Thompson. Photo courtesy of the UW System.

UW System Board of Regents President Edmund Manydeeds has named a presidential search committee to help select the next UW System president. A UW System press release said: “The committee will schedule listening sessions at UW System’s 13 universities in September, when additional faculty, staff and students will be invited to participate.” This search committee comes after a disastrous search effort in 2020. That failure resulted in the Board of Regents beseeching former Wisconsin GOP Governor Tommy Thompson to take over as interim president in July, 2020.

Thompson, the longest serving (and popular) governor in state history, dropped the interim title. The COVID-19 pandemic proved Thompson’s wisdom. Board of Regents President Manydeeds said: “President Thompson has reminded us of the power of the Wisconsin Idea. We saw this during the height of the pandemic, when we opened campuses to community testing and vaccinations. Our next president should keep that focus while meeting the many challenges ahead.” I respectfully urge the committee to take a serious look at keeping President Thompson.

Thompson is from Elroy, a small town in rural Wisconsin. His father was a town businessman, his mother a schoolteacher. He graduated from UW-Madison with BA and JD degrees, working while attending UW-Madison to help pay for his education. Thompson has spent most of his life in public service: legislator, governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. He has always worked well with Democrats and Republicans. He believes in governing, solving problems and big accomplishments.

Before Thompson was drafted as UW System president he had called for bipartisanship in defeating COVID-19: “I’m hoping the goodwill of America and the great country of ours sees the need for us to come together.” He refused to be a partisan critic of state Democratic Governor Tony Evers: “I’m one of the individuals who believes that when you have people in public life, you support them.” Upon being named president in 2020 he appointed a bipartisan transition team. A bold and smart move in deeply polarized Wisconsin. That’s the Thompson way. He builds and unites.

Thompson has highlighted his many accomplishments: “I put my experience as former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Wisconsin governor to work with (UW System) 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 … .” The proof is indisputable: UW-Madison has a 90 percent vaccination rate, exceeding many other universities.

Thompson has no ambition other than strengthening the UW System. He has already communicated clearly the economic importance of the UW System to the entire state; implemented scholarships for middle-working class students, including rural, tribal and urban Wisconsinites, to attend UW System schools, and is best able to engage with the governor, multiple stakeholders and the GOP-led legislature to build budget and political support.

The next UW System president is already leading. Tommy for president.

This column was originally published by Wispolitics.com.

Bill Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

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