Tommy Thompson, who is the interim president for the University of Wisconsin System, announced his resignation Jan. 7 in a letter to UW System Board of Regents President Edmund Manydeeds III. Thompson will leave his role on March 18, 2022.
Thompson succeeded former UW System president Ray Cross who announced his retirement in October 2019 and retired in June 2020. The former Republican governor has held the role since since July 1, 2020 after the UW System conducted a failed presidential search to replace Cross.
“When I agreed to lead our System, I did so knowing two things; that I was needed, and that it would be temporary,” Thompson said.
In the letter, Thompson said he will continue to stay on his role until his successor is ready to take the reins.
Thompson’s leadership helped carry the UW System through the COVID-19 pandemic while setting the standard management during crises, Manydeeds said in a statement in response to Thompson’s letter.
“Tommy Thompson was the right man at the right time,” Manydeeds said.
The UW System navigated the COVID-19 pandemic under Thompson’s leadership with several notable achievements. The Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers restored tuition-setting authority to the Board of Regents by lifting the eight-year in-state tuition freeze.
Thompson reported last October each UW System campus was “financially stable” and enrollment declined by about 1% across the UW System going into the 2021-22 academic year as other universities across the country saw significant enrollment decreases, according to his letter.
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University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Thompson stepped into his role during a “critical moment” for both the UW System and Wisconsin.
“He has been an extraordinary advocate for our students, faculty and staff over these past 18 months, as he has been for the state of Wisconsin over his many decades of public service,” Blank said.
Thompson, who is a Republican and served as former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services under George Bush, released the “70 for 70” scholarship campaign to encourage students to take the COVID-19 vaccine and built testing infrastructure across UW campuses during the pandemic.
He stood by the UW System’s decision to uphold campus mask mandates, leading to some members of his own party in the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature threaten to sue the UW System.
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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thompson faced challenges no UW System president has experienced before.
“He tackled [those challenges] head-on and continued to provide quality education, maximizing in-person learning for the students of the UW System,” Vos said. “During the last two years, there is no doubt education at the UW campuses would have been nowhere near as meaningful without Tommy Thompson.”
Manydeeds appointed 21 members to a search committee for the next UW System president in July 2020. The UW System Board of Regents met to select finalists for replacing Thompson Jan. 7 at 12 p.m. CST.