Former Gov. Thompson takes over as UW System President

By: - July 6, 2020 3:35 pm
Tommy Thompson

Former Republican governor and UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson. (UW System)

Following a presidential search that failed to find a president, former Gov. Tommy Thompson took over as interim president of the UW system on Monday. Thompson is taking the reins from Ray Cross, who retired after five years in the role. 

Cross was frequently criticized for ignoring the system’s shared governance practices — most recently involving his proposals for how the system should evolve after the COVID-19 pandemic

His “blueprint” for the future of the system proposed optimizing programs across the 13 comprehensive campuses to prevent duplication. It also proposed centralized control of online classes and called for more control to be placed in the hands of the UW System administration, rather than on individual campuses. 

Students and faculty immediately responded with widespread condemnation of the plan. 

The fallout from the proposed blueprint came after Cross consolidated the state’s two-year campuses into some of the comprehensive campuses in 2018 — another unpopular move. 


Additionally, the search for Cross’ replacement was criticized from the start because there weren’t any faculty or students on the search committee. When the committee named just one finalist, University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen, students and faculty were unimpressed because of his record in Alaska. 

Johnsen ultimately withdrew from consideration, leading the UW System’s Board of Regents to find an interim president. They named Thompson.

On his first day, Thompson took over a university system with a fragile relationship with its employees who feel like they’ve been burned before. 

In response, Thompson has styled himself as the system’s “listener-in-chief.” The system opened a public forum called the “Listening Post” in which people can share their views on the system. 

Thompson will respond to the public input in a video series called “Two Minutes with Tommy,” on social media, according to the UW System website. 

“I’m going to be its biggest advocate, cheerleader and also its toughest evaluator, to ensure we’re doing the job correctly,” Thompson said in a video statement. “We’re going to need your help, to be able to give us your ideas and we will become the listening post so that we can take your ideas and formulate those into action and make the UW System even greater.”

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.