MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin System regents announced Friday that they selected former Gov. Tommy Thompson as the system’s interim president, providing another twist in what has become a messy search to replace outgoing President Ray Cross.
Regents President Andrew Petersen asked Thompson to jump into the position, according to a system statement. Thompson will take over the post on July 1. He will be paid $489,334, the minimum salary for the position. The statement said Thompson requested that amount.
“The University of Wisconsin System is the state’s most valuable asset, and I will be its biggest advocate and its toughest evaluator,” Thompson said. “No other institution in the state can do more to improve lives, communities, and Wisconsin’s economy.”
Thompson declined to comment when reached by phone Friday morning.
Thompson, a 78-year-old Republican, is Wisconsin’s only four-term governor. He stepped down during during his fourth term to serve as then-President George W. Bush’s health secretary. He mounted a brief run for president in 2008 and ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, losing to Democrat Tammy Baldwin.
Thompson was a member of the state Assembly in 1971 when it voted to create the UW System.
UW officials began a search for a new president after Cross announced in October that he would step down as soon as a successor could be found. University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen emerged as the lone finalist earlier this month after other would-be finalists dropped out of the running out of concerns that if they were identified they’d lose credibility in the fight against the coronavirus on their current campuses.
Johnsen announced June 12 that he, too, was withdrawing from consideration amid intense criticism from UW faculty, staff and students. Those groups complained that they weren’t allowed any representatives on a search committee and Johnsen has had a rocky relationship with faculty in Alaska.