Tommy Thompson Shows Leadership Skills, UW-System Requests Solid Ideas

When Tommy Thompson was named the UW System’s interim president there was statewide applause, from all points of the political compass, and all sectors of the state economy.  There was not only optimism about his selection but a deep conviction that Wisconsin’s senior statesman was the person with the skills and steady hands that could guide the UW-System through these most challenging times.

With clarity of purpose and a determination to work in a timely fashion Thompson is doing what we all trusted would be his mission at this new job.

Thursday Thompson will push for the Board of Regents to support a 3.5% increase to its 2021-23 state budget.  With new ideas to buttress the UW-System at this time of pandemic and economic pain, Thompson is pushing the envelope to make clear to all state residents the importance of higher education.  Using his political skills he is connecting with parents hard-hit during this time of financial upheaval by proposing a statewide free tuition scholarship program for some Wisconsin students.

Too often we see would-be leaders acting with timidity and couching behind studies and commissions in order to stall decision making.  Too often others fall to the threadbare language of budget cuts and not being able to act as the revenue stream does not seem able to match the needs of the time.

Thompson has proudly taken a different stance. One that we all can be proud of and support. A reader of the Wisconsin State journal could almost hear his determined tone and confidence when reading this quote.

“I want to be able to convince the legislators that the University of Wisconsin has been a punching bag for too long,” he said. “We’re not going to apologize anymore. We’re going out to tell our story.”

Over and over we see all sorts of men and women in our state and across the nation strive to be leaders, and though they exert energy and hope many never attain it.  In part, that is due to not being willing to act as Thompson did by going “big and bold”.

“This is a big, bold, aggressive budget that I think is going to meet the needs of our time,” he told reporters Tuesday in a video news conference. “If you were looking at a way to grow yourself out of a financial dilemma, wouldn’t you go to an area that’s going to give you the biggest return possible? … Who’s a better job creator than the University of Wisconsin?”

For too long there have been some in the state legislature who have delighted in sending out the wrong messages about higher education in this state.  There have been attempts to deny adequate funding for the UW and to divert attention instead to topics ranging from free speech to ‘political correctness.’

Thompson has made a clarion call that the topic for discussion now, and into the next budget cycle, will be the need to foster the growth engine of the state–the UW-System.  In so doing he is demonstrating–again–the role of a leader is to outline a problem facing our state and then finding ways to remedy it.

Thompson is proving to be the right person, for the right job, at the right time.