It was a farewell address of sorts Monday for Tommy Thompson at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
The former Wisconsin governor is stepping down as the UW System president March 18. UW-L was his first of a 14-day trip where he will stop at every UW school.
Thompson spoke on a variety of issues, including the difficult decision he made to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I made the decision to open up the universities, there was a lot of pushback, and I knew that if I made the decision I was responsible, I was responsible for those students.” explained Thompson.
Another key issue Thompson touched on was the growth of the UW schools and programs. Thompson explained that there has been a decline in Wisconsin high school students that go on to further their education, which is impacting the labor shortage.
“The University of Wisconsin is a jewel, and our Wisconsin idea is to educate everyone and to go to all corners of the state,” Thompson said. “However, I also want the Wisconsin idea to be expansive. I want us to be the number one problem solvers. … We have to find ways to attract students and ask them ‘what is the best way to educate you.”
Thomson also stressed the need for bipartisan legislation and elected officials coming together to support the universities.
“We have a partisan gridlock in this state, and I’m sad about that, people need to work together.” Thompson said. “We can fight like the dickens to get elected, but once we are elected isn’t our responsibility to the population at large? You can run as an R, you can run as a D, but once you get elected, let’s come together and collapse into the winning party, the Wisconsin party, the W party.”
Along those lines, Thompson was asked what he might do with his free time, with an underlying tone to see if he would announce a run for governor. The 80-year-old, however, didn’t say.
But asked if he had any advice for his successor, Jay O. Rothman, who will be taking over June 1st, Thompson highlighted the importance of making connections with legislators.
“He has to learn the system, we have a great public relations operation already set up, and he has to use that. He has to go out and meet legislators, both republicans and democrats, and meet with them in their home districts. It’s a lot of work, but he’s going to have to do it if he’s going to be successful.”