UW System Acting President Tommy Thompson will resign from his position effective March 18.
He announced his imminent departure to the UW Board on Friday, as the search committee tasked with finding a permanent chairman anticipates that he will appoint an employee sometime in February.
“I was honored to be asked by the Board of Regents to serve as chairman of the system, especially in what may have been its darkest moment,” Thompson wrote in his resignation letter. “Although we challenge on many fronts, we work together to continue to provide the quality of education that our students deserve and parents expect.”
Plus:Far from being a placeholder, Tommy Thompson is leading the UW system through a difficult stretch with ideas, persuasion and an optimistic attitude.
Thompson said he is satisfied with what he has accomplished in his position and was submitting his resignation letter to allow the board and system staff time to prepare for the onboarding process for the next president.
Thompson has said throughout his 18-month tenure that he will remain in office for as long as the board requests, but no longer. The fact that you cement an exit date could be a sign that the search committee has confidence in how the search for the next president of the system is progressing.
Still, the exit date leaves less than two months between the anticipated hiring of the next system president and Thompson’s departure. At this point, it has not been publicly announced when the new president of the system will take office.
The committee will meet in closed session on Friday at noon to select the finalists for the work.
Thompson turned down an interview request on Friday, as did UW Regent Vice President Karen Walsh, who chairs the presidential search committee. Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III issued a statement on behalf of the board, calling the former governor “a lifelong friend of the University of Wisconsin.”
“Tommy Thompson was the right man at the right time. His leadership has helped us overcome a pandemic and has set the standard for handling during a crisis, “wrote Manydeeds.” Just as important, President Thompson has been a tireless champion of the University of Wisconsin. It showed in everything he did as president of the system. “
A short but busy tenure
The resignation letter marks the beginning of a short but remarkable chapter in Wisconsin’s longest running governor’s career, and what may be the last when it comes to holding public office.
Thompson, 80, initially rejected the Board of Regents’ request to assume the interim position, which was left open after the mid-pandemic search to find a replacement for the outgoing System President Ray Cross ended in a chaotic fault.
The small committee made up of Regent named a single finalist for the position, Jim Johnsen, then of the University of Alaska System, only to have his application withdrawn after public interviews, citing “process problems.”
Plus:The University of Wisconsin system searches for a new leader in the chaos as sole finalist Jim Johnsen retires
Thompson took office with characteristic enthusiasm and trepidation, unwilling to simply serve as a placeholder while the board worked to launch another search.
In the fall of 2020, he overcame concerns around the effort to reopen campuses for in-person learning, using his experience as a former US Secretary of Health and Human Services to navigate early spikes in campus cases. , implement testing infrastructure that also served surrounding communities, and Encourage students and staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Notes of gratitude from the presidents of the UW System arrived on Friday following the publication of Thompson’s resignation letter.
“He has been an extraordinary advocate for our students, faculty and staff for the past 18 months, as he has been for the state of Wisconsin during its many decades of public service.” Rebecca Blank, UW-Madison Chancellor, said in a statement.
He also worked to solve less conspicuous administrative challenges, driving improvements in the procurement processes and human resources of the system. Early in his tenure, he cut the central office budget by 10% to fund scholarships for underrepresented students and college counseling for school districts across the state.
Thompson was an unapologetic advocate for the university system, touring the state to tout the role of public universities in shaping the future of the state and challenging what some insiders saw as a chapter of shyness after years of political fights and budget cuts. .
He alternately courted and confronted the Republicans who control the state legislature, as one of the most prominent Republicans in the state. He ran the system through the latest state budget process, securing a slight budget increase and an end to the eight-year freeze on state college tuition imposed by lawmakers. And when members of his party threatened to stop the system from imposing masking and other mandates related to the pandemic, he refused to comply and challenged them to sue.
“Come and enjoy your classes,” he assured the students at the time. “Forget the disputes … Your students, your children will be safe. We will make sure they are. And we will use science to do that.”
Plus:‘Don’t Abdicate My Responsibility’: Tommy Thompson Rejects GOP’s Attempt to Control and Block COVID Rules on Campus
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State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos released a statement thanking Thompson for his leadership, saying he was proud to call Thompson a mentor and friend.
“I want to thank Tommy Thompson for his tireless efforts to help shape our workforce and for his decades of public service,” said Vos. “While this chapter is ending, I know this will not be the last contribution I make to the state of Wisconsin.”
Thompson wrote in his resignation letter that he will spend his remaining time advancing the system’s legislative agenda, making final visits to campuses and finalizing a list of priorities to broadcast.
His successor will face challenges no less critical than those seen in the past 18 months, as UW campuses continue to navigate the ebb and flow of the COVID-19 pandemic, grappling with declining enrollment trends and weathering fierce political headwinds, all while trying. to find out how to adapt your business model to changing demographics.
Thompson wrote that he is “confident that our foundation is as strong as ever.”
“My mother was Irish, so I say goodbye with mixed emotions and undying affection for this institution that I am proud to lead,” he wrote.
Contact Devi Shastri at 414-224-2193 or DAShastri@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DeviShastri.