All across Wisconsin, one thing can be said with a high degree of certainty. Parents of kids attending state universities, professors and staff at the state schools, and communities who are proud to be home to these centers of higher education are all cheering UW System President Tommy Thompson.
And I suspect cheering loudly, too.
The reason is that Thompson directly challenged the Republican leaders in the state legislature who insist they must have control on COVID-19 policies within the UW System. The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted earlier this month in favor of a requirement that the System submit any plans for COVID-19 policies to the committee as emergency rules within 30 days. Failing that the System would need to drop mandates for any such measures.
Over the decades we have watched, again and again, how unsuccessful it has been to force Thompson to take actions contrary to common sense. Such was the case Tuesday when the former Wisconsin Governor and former Secretary of Health and Human Services rebuked the legislative leaders, informing them university leaders don’t need legislative approval to manage the schools.
Left unstated, at least out loud, was “Case closed.”
The reason for the cheering from Sturgeon Bay to Cassville is that people understand the severity of the fourth wave of the pandemic and the woefully inadequate and anemic response from the Republican-controlled legislature. After having watched like everyone else in the state how the pandemic has run wild and now morphed into a deadly variant, Thompson is not about to allow those who are partly to blame for the current situation to have full control over the System’s plans.
When the counter-punch from the legislature was delivered Tuesday by State Senator Steve Nass, who threatened a lawsuit, Thompson was ready to stand his ground on behalf of those he has dedicated himself to fight for.
“I’m not going to be intimidated. Even though I don’t want to pick a fight with the Legislature, I’m going to stand my ground.”
The applause one hears for Thompson this week is not new when it comes to his position.
When 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 very challenging times.
From budget fights to the crushing pandemic Thompson reminds us that he is not behind his desk just to make a cameo appearance every now and then. He is invested in the fights so to make our university system stronger and smarter. And with his actions this week he is ensuring that the importance of higher education does not get mired down in the political theater of the anti-mask and mandate crowd who love to create smoke and rhetoric at the statehouse.
Thompson is again proving to be the right person, for the right job, at the right time.
And so it goes.