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.

UW’s International Students Are More Than Just Tuition Paying Job Creators

Like many others around Wisconsin, I was perplexed at the news recently regarding the status of international students during this pandemic.  The federal government stated that foreign students will have to attend at least one class in-person to maintain their legal status in our nation.  With COVID-19 cases increasing sharply in Wisconsin there is no way to truly know the manner in which higher education will take place come the fall, regardless of the best intentions to proceed as normal.

The Sunday editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal surely resonated with the majority of readers as it strongly encouraged common sense during this most unsettling time.

Wisconsin’s congressional delegation must unify against any attempt by the Trump administration to needlessly force international students to leave Wisconsin if universities here can’t offer in-person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The paper made solid points regarding why these students are important to the UW System and the state.

International students pay steep tuition, which helps hold down the cost of college for Wisconsin residents. Many foreign students also stay here after graduation, filling high-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. Some even start successful companies that employ hundreds of people.

What was not mentioned in the column is the human connection these young men and women bring to our city and state.  From around the globe, they arrive with cultural experiences, religious customs, exciting recipes, and fresh perspectives about regions of the world we only read about.  When we engage with them we are bound to learn so very much.

My better half, James, was a college professor before retiring in 2017.  Over the years we had the pleasure of sharing meals at our home with truly engaging and interesting international students from Iran to Russia.  Among the visitors to our dinner table was Manzoor from Pakistan, and Ferit from Turkey as they experienced traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Both Manzoor and Ferit connected the dots from viewing our news coverage that much of the real story is never told about international events.  The old saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ when speaking of what gets press attention was not lost on our dinner guests.   They each found that troubling as the real story of nations far from our shores is not really known to Americans.

Manzoor lamented that too many people think that all of Pakistan is in disarray and turmoil.  In fact, it is not.  He spoke of most Pakistanis not being embroiled in the tensions that make the front pages of the newspapers.  Islamic extremists are a small minority of his country.   Manzoor says he would estimate that apart from the region near Afghanistan only 1% of  Pakistan is made up of Islamic fundamentalists.

As a tour guide in the mountain regions near China Manzoor spoke of the 20 languages that one can find in his country.  He speaks three of them, and also English.  I reminded him that some Americans can barely speak one.

At the end of our meal and conversation, Ferit looked at me and stated he needed to ask for permission.  I thought he wanted to use the bathroom and was about to say ‘down the hallway’.  But he quickly added that it was a custom to ask permission to end the meal and leave.  I looked at Manzoor and he added it was also customary in Pakistan as well.  It was perhaps the most polite ending to a meal I have ever encountered.

The world can seem large and complicated, and in many ways it is.  But it can also be very human and down to earth.  The role that these young men and women undertake when they come to schools within the UW System serves not only their educational pursuits but in even more important ways it helps to break down barriers and misconceptions.  In some respects, these young minds are diplomats who are making the world better understood and friendly.   

We must do all that is possible to ensure international students are not treated unkindly by the federal government at this time of the pandemic.

My UW-Stevens Point Post Makes Top Story At Urban Milwaukee

I am pleased–on this snowy and wintry day in Wisconsin–to report that my blog post regarding the liberal arts programs at UW-Stevens Point was the most popular article in the past week at Urban Milwaukee.

I am glad my words resonated with readers from around the state.   It was on days like this back in Hancock when snow would be piling up around the back door that I would be hunkered down with a book.  And listening to WGN talk-radio.  (A picture of my family home on County KK in Hancock is featured this week on the header to this blog.)

I have always thrilled to learning new things, and expounding on issues that deserve to be elevated in our national dialogue.

This blog has been a perfect vehicle for allowing the issues which interest me to find a connection with others.  Thanks for being a part of the ‘conversation’.