The University of Wisconsin System has had the remarkably good fortune of having former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson serve as its interim president for the past 10 months while it has faced a pandemic, sought to rebuild relationships in divided government and re-establish the profile of public higher education.

President Thompson stepped into this role after being recruited by UW Regent leadership with not only a reform-oriented legacy as the Badger state’s longest-serving governor, but also one who has made a personal and political commitment to making the UW System the best it can be. These skills have been put to good work for all Wisconsinites.

As the heads of large statewide organizations which work in the private and public sectors, it is rare for us to publicly voice support for a leader at the UW System. Yet, Tommy Thompson is so unique and such a relentless champion of all things Wisconsin that we want to ensure that we get the most out of him.

His enthusiasm is unmatched. His experience as the former U.S. secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is needed now more than ever. And his energy to champion innovation at UW System is essential. Having him lead during these perilous times has done wonders for the UW System’s credibility and standing with Gov. Tony Evers, the Legislature and taxpayers alike.

As important, President Thompson has shown he can positively engage people of different political persuasions. Whether it is with Democratic Governor Evers or Republican legislative leadership, he has begun to remake how people view the UW System — as an ally and asset to all Wisconsinites. Who else could have marshaled the resources to provide COVID-19 testing and now vaccines for all Wisconsinites at the height of the pandemic as Thompson did?

So, when President Thompson indicated recently in a statewide story aired on Wisconsin Public Radio that he would be open to staying longer, we want to encourage state leaders to take him up on this offer.

When he was named interim president last June, Thompson said he would be the UW System’s biggest advocate and toughest evaluator. He has done just that, but we need more of what we have gotten during the past 10 months. In our opinion, as leaders of statewide organizations who interface with political leaders daily, running his tenure through at least June 2022 — to offer continuity during this current legislative session — perhaps the most important in our state’s history — would help leverage all that UW System has to offer.

The UW System is one of the state’s largest employers and an economic driver. Having a trusted leader who has the best interest of Wisconsin at heart will not only make a big difference in the lives of Wisconsinites, but will also set the University of Wisconsin System up for future success. Whoever is the next President of the UW System will benefit from the work Tommy Thompson is doing right now. We should keep him for as long as we can.

Mike Theo is president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Realtors Association. Mark D. O’Connell is executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

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