UW Systems interim president, Tommy Thompson, stepping down March 18

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- UW Systems interim president Tommy Thompson announced he is resigning from his position effective March 18, 2022.

The former Wisconsin governor has been filling the role after a failed search for a permanent replacement after Ray Cross stepped down as president. Thompson took on the role as interim president in July 1, 2020 and was tasked with tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

While it was a challenging time, Thompson was able to reopen campuses for in-person learning, launched a robust testing system and became a vocal supporter of vaccines, championing the phrase "Smash COVID."

In a resignation letter to the UW Board of Regents president, Edmund Manydeeds III, Thompson said he agreed to lead the UW school system knowing that it was a temporary position. In order to help with the transition, Thompson will stay on until March 18. 

"While I firmly believe that the pursuit of excellence never ends, I am satisfied that I have accomplished what has been asked of me and what people of this state had sought. I am confident our foundation is as strong as ever. It is time to allow you and the board the ability to prepare for a successor to lead the UW System into the years ahead." 

Thompson's departure could be a sign that the search committee is close to selecting a new leader. The committee met in private on Friday to select finalists for the next UW System president. Those names are expected to become public some time next week. 

Reaction from UW System officials and state lawmakers poured in after Thompson's announcement. 

"His leadership has helped carry us through a pandemic and set the standard for managing during a crisis," said Edmund Manydeeds III. "He raised the profile of public higher education in our state and ensured that it is relevant, not only to students, parents, faculty, and staff whose leadership we entrusted to him, but also to all Wisconsinites. He answered the call as one of Wisconsin’s greatest public leaders by accepting this role in spite of the challenges in front of him." 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said, "Thompson has been a steadfast champion and I'm grateful for his work to strengthen the relationship between the Legislature and the UW System."

Bill McCoshen, a former aid to Thompson, said he stepped up to take on the role at the right time. 

"He took over after a messy search that didn't go well in the middle of a pandemic," McCoshen said. "He was perfectly positioned to manage the system through the process."

Assembly Minority Leader Gretta Neubauer (D-Racine) thanked Thompson for "his tireless efforts to help shape future workforce and decades of public service."

Many are now wondering what Thompson might do next, as some are calling on him to enter the governor's race, McCoshen said. 

"I've got some people calling and asking about that. He's 80 years old and has more energy than most 40-year-olds I know. I don't think we've seen the last of Tommy Thompson," said McCoshen. 

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