University of Wisconsin Board of Regents member Gerald Whitburn sent in a letter of resignation to Gov. Tony Evers Jan. 23. Whitburn served on the board since a 2011 appointment from former Gov. Scott Walker, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.  

Whitburn was reappointed in 2018 for a term that was meant to last through May 2025. In his hometown, Whitburn was the chairman and chief operating officer of Church Mutual Insurance Co. He spent six years working in the U.S. Senate, and also served as Wisconsin’s labor secretary and Secretary of Health and Social Services on Gov. Tommy Thompson’s Cabinet, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The board is responsible for creating system policies, keeping up with the state’s higher education needs and setting admission standards and reviewing budgets, according to their website.

Whitburn, who received a masters in political science from UW in 1968, did not indicate a reason for resigning in his letter to Evers.

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“It is time for me to step away from the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents,” Whitburn wrote. “Please consider my resignation effective immediately. As you know, I have enjoyed having the opportunity to serve the university system and the State in this capacity.”

Evers will appoint another potential board member, and the choice is subject to Senate approval. Currently, five Regent members began their term under the Evers administration, according to the board’s website. 

Whitburn was the chair of the audit committee, and also sat on the executive, education and student discipline and other student appeals committees, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In an email statement, Evers spoke on the Board’s loss of such a prominent member. 

“I thank Gerald Whitburn for his service to Wisconsin,” Evers said in an email. “Being a Regent is hard, important work, and he handled it always with statesmanship and decency. He will be missed on the Board of Regents.” 

Evers served on the board himself and made two appointments in April for Eau Claire attorney Ed Manydeeds and Madison philanthropist Karen Walsh.

Jenny Dahlberg, former Academic Staff Executive Committee chair and current Grants Administrator at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about the significance of Whitburn’s departure.

“I’m sorry he stepped down,” Dahlberg said. “But, it’s an opportunity for Evers to appoint someone early, preferably someone with a strong background in higher education.” 

Evers did not say when he will announce a replacement for Whitburn. The next board meeting is Feb. 7-8 and is hosted by UW.

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Terry Warfield, Faculty Shared Governance chair and chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at the UW School of Business, spoke about Whitburn’s background in economics.

“One thing that he brought to the Board is that he was the former CEO of an insurance company and brought some strength in terms of financial accountability and financial wherewithal,” Warfield said. “So, that will be a little bit of a loss.”

Warfield, an accounting professor, said this expertise is advantageous for the Board. Warfield would like to see the board advocate for better funding for the University System.

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The tuition freeze has been in place for eight years now, Warfield said. UW has been lucky to get by so far through philanthropy and other things, but Warfield said this isn’t sustainable. 

Right now, the board is made up of bankers, dairy farmers, attorneys, entrepreneurs and business people, according to its website. Warfield said this kind of variety is important.

“If you look at the Board, the key to a good Board is diversity,” Warfield said. “Some people … may have been critical before … because Governor Walker didn’t seek as much diversity as would have been desired by others. So, I’m sure Governor Evers is giving a lot of thought and thinking about what kind of expertise is needed.”

Warfield spoke about Whitburn’s many contributions to the Board, including bringing a lot of perspective and having the best interests of the system at heart.