Tommy Thompson’s farewell

Mason Thompson, Journalist

Tommy Thompson addresses the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater community in celebration of reaching a 70% vaccination rate. (Lyric Trempe)

Interim University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson held his final appearance in front of the Board of Regents Friday, Feb. 11. Thompson announced in January that he would be stepping down from his position. The former four-term Wisconsin governor’s last day at his current position will be March 18, 2022. 

In recognition of his efforts and dedication during his time in office as the President, Thompson’s title was changed from “Interim President” to “President.” After a failed search for a new President, Thompson was recommended to the board by former Regent President Drew Petersen, who presented Thompson with the news that the interim tag was removed from his title.

“It was a difficult time. But we all knew it was the right decision,” said Petersen at the time of Thompson’s hiring.  

Petersen was correct in that stance as Thompson made the UW schools some of the safest in the country.

“For much of the past semester, our positivity rates across the system hovered about one percent,” Thompson said. “Our campuses were, in fact, the safest places in Wisconsin.” Thompson’s major goal was to bring students back to campuses safely, and that was accomplished. The UW system didn’t mandate vaccinations for their students, but instead launched the “70 for 70” scholarship initiative which automatically entered fully vaccinated students into a scholarship drawing, 10 of which was awarded $7,000. This initiative played a major part in ending with 11 of the 12 universities successfully reaching the threshold of a 70 percent vaccination rate. Since Thompson’s entry as the President, UW systems have handed out over two million COVID tests and is the first public university system in the country to broaden its surge testing range to include the public. 

Another crisis when Thompson took control was the financial crisis that campuses were facing, primarily due to the pandemic. Through travel limitations, reduced expenses, and most importantly, $50 million from the federal COVID funds, the UW system is financially stable at all of its colleges. These of course are only a few of the major triumphs that Thompson accomplished during his 20-month tenure as the UW President. 

“If we truly want to grow Wisconsin, there’s no better place to start than with the UW System,” Thompson said.

He has reiterated through his time as the President that he is “convinced that a college education, a college degree, has never been more important.” Thompson has continuously thanked the faculty and staff of the UW system and Chancellors for their work during his short time as the system President and that they still continue to do unwaveringly.

“Educating students, building Wisconsin, and solving problems. That is what truly gives life to the Wisconsin Idea,” Thompson said. 

Thompson also noted some of the great initiatives that were accomplished for the betterment of students education:

  • Expansion of the Summer Bridge program, to assist incoming freshman to make successful transition to college life
  • The launch of a new pre college pipeline initiative at five UW universities to foster greater interaction with high school students to encourage interest in going to college
  • The launch of the new Regents Opportunity Scholarships, providing $1 million annually in scholarships to underrepresented and deserving students
  • The waiver of electronic application fees at 10 of 13 universities, resulting in an increase in the number of applications 
  • Signing of historic agreements between UW System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to make it easier for students to transfer between the two higher education systems 
  • Introduction of a new online behavioral health tool, SilverCloud, that offers self-guided assistance programs to students, faculty, and staff at no cost
  • Creation of a new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion office at the system level reporting directly to the president to facilitate a system level reporting directly to the president to facilitate a systemwide strategic vision and planning
  • The launch of a pilot program with EAB’s Academic Planner tool at several universities to facilitate better course-to-graduation mapping for students; and 
  • Bringing back pre college and youth programs to campuses

Jay O. Rothman, who has been selected as the next UW System President will start his tenure on June 1, 2022, while Former Regent Michael Falbo will serve as the interim president from the time Thompson leaves and Rothman enters.