Tommy Thompson resigning as UW System interim president

MADISON, Wis. — After about a year and a half as the interim leader of the University of Wisconsin System, former governor Tommy Thompson is stepping down from the role.

In a letter to UW System Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III Friday, Thompson said his resignation will be effective March 18.

Thompson was sworn in as the interim head of the UW System in July of 2020, and was charged with leading the state’s public universities through the coronavirus pandemic.

“While challenging on many fronts, we worked together to continue to provide the quality of education our students deserve and parents expect,” Thompson said in his resignation letter. “We not only performed but prevailed in our fight against COVID’s deleterious impact on our universities and our communities — and in doing so we made our campuses some of the safest places in Wisconsin.”

Thompson helped implement the UW System’s COVID protocols to help students return to in-person learning on campus. The former Republican governor sometimes sparred with Republican lawmakers at the state capitol who tried to exert authority over protocols like mask and vaccine mandates, to which Thompson replied, “get out of my way.”

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The regents thanked Thompson for his service to the state during such a difficult period in the UW System’s history.

“Tommy Thompson was the right man at the right time. His leadership has helped carry us through a pandemic and set the standard for managing during a crisis,” Manydeeds III said in a statement. “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. We are proud of what he accomplished in his time here and consider him, as always, a lifelong friend of the University of Wisconsin. We were fortunate to have such a strong advocate and evaluator lead the UW System.”

Thompson says when he took over, he knew the role would be temporary while the System searched for a permanent president.

“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 the people of this state have sought,” Thompson said in his resignation letter. “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.”

You can read Thompson’s full resignation letter below, or click here.