MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Interim University of Wisconsin President Tommy Thompson on Friday submitted his letter of resignation effective in March, a move that comes as the committee working to name a permanent leader prepares to select finalists for the position.
Thompson, the 80-year-old former governor, took on the job as interim president of the UW System on July 1, 2020. He came on board after a failed search to find a replacement for Ray Cross.
Thompson, in his resignation letter submitted to the Board of Regents, said he was honored to hold the position “particularly through what could have been its darkest time.” His resignation is effective 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 the people of this state have sought,” Thompson wrote. “I am confidant 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.”
The letter comes as a search committee nears selecting finalists for a permanent president. The committee expects to conduct interviews this month and name its choice in February. The hiring decision will fall to the full Board of Regents.
Thompson, a former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, advocated for strong COVID-19 measures on university campuses, including frequent testing, vaccinations and mask mandates. He also pushed for the return to in-person classes in the fall of 2021.
A Republican, Thompson also worked to improve the university’s often contentious relationship with the GOP-controlled state Legislature. When some Republicans threatened to sue Thompson for not seeking legislative approval for the university’s COVID-19 policies, Thompson refused to budge.
“I’m not going to be intimidated,” he said in August.
Ultimately, the Republican lawmakers backed down.
GOP legislators and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers also lifted an eight-year freeze on in-state tuition and returned rate-setting powers to the regents under Thompson’s watch.
The regents ultimately chose not to raise in-state tuition for the 2021-22 academic year. Thompson said in his resignation letter that he feels he has restored elected officials’ confidence in system spending.
“Tommy Thompson was the right man at the right time,” said University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents President Edmund Manydeeds in a statement. “His leadership has helped carry us through a pandemic and set the standard for managing during a crisis.”
Thompson is the only person to have been elected to four, four-year terms as governor. He stepped down midway through his fourth term in 2001 to serve as then-President George W. Bush’s health secretary.
Thompson mounted a brief run for president in 2008 and also ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, losing to Democrat Tammy Baldwin. He was a member of the state Assembly in 1971 when it voted to create the UW System.