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Gov. Tommy Thompson visits UWRF on farewell tour

March 27, 2022

Tommy Thompson tours UWRF
Gov. Tommy Thompson stops to talk to students during a March 11 tour in South Hall accompanied by Chancellor Maria Gallo. (Photo provided by University Marketing and Communications)

Gov. Tommy Thompson officially ended his position as interim UW System president on March 18. Before this date, Thompson set out on a farewell tour to a majority of the UW campuses, including UW-River Falls on March 11.

He expressed a variety of reasons why he felt that UW-River Falls was an important university.

“I think it is one of the most important gems within the whole UW System," he said. "The reason I say that is because River Falls is unique. It is a campus that is close to Minnesota, it’s agricultural-based and it also has, turns out, approximately 80-85% agriculture teachers for high schools in the state of Wisconsin.”

Thompson was proud of all the accomplishments the campus has made with research, agriculture, and within the community. Thompson was visiting a variety of campuses within the UW system throughout the upcoming and past weeks but expressed his specific love for River Falls. “I am just delighted to be here, always am.” 

Thompson had been involved with the Wisconsin state legislature for 20 years and governor of Wisconsin for 15 years. He then served as the secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services for four years under the Bush Administration before coming back to Wisconsin and being asked to serve as interim UW System president for two years.

His two years has now come to an end and when asked how his time was within the UW-system, he said, “Well it’s been difficult they brought me in because they had a failed search and the university system was in a difficult space. They wanted to have a strong leader and I guess they have to classify me in that category. They had just closed down all of the campuses in March of the year of the pandemic. It’s been a challenging time but I’ve loved it.” 

Thompson came into office within the UW System around the same time the pandemic started affecting college campuses. He has played a larger role when it comes to making decisions regarding COVID safety guidelines on each of the campuses. For example, he recently overall made the decision to life the mask mandate for the UW System as of March 11. 

Thompson talked a lot about growth when it comes to the future of UWRF. Growth within pride for the University system and increasing the number of enrolled students. He expressed how a large factor when it comes to growth falls into having pride for the university you are attending.

“I told everybody, the University of Wisconsin is the best asset we have, besides our people. People are number one but after you take out the citizens, the next greatest asset we have is the University of Wisconsin. I told everyone, stop apologizing, start bragging about the University system! That's what the chancellors and I are doing, bragging about this great system!”

He said he wants more students to fulfill their college experience by utilizing all of the resources that the UW System has to offer. 

As his two years as UW System president comes to a close, Thompson did not have much of answer for what lies ahead.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I know one thing I will not retire,” he said. He is determined to keep going and find that one last “gig” that he is convinced is out there. Thompson sprinkled in a few teases for what might come next such as running for governor of Wisconsin again, opening up another business, or going back home to his big farm to raise 150 head of cattle. 

Regardless of what he does next, Thompson wants to leave a legacy behind full of pride for everything that has progressed during his time as interim president. He pushed the “Wisconsin Idea” of not just being focused on education but also expanding to be a resource for problem solving in the state of Wisconsin.

Thompson said, “I want them to remember that I really cared. I am passionate about the university. I opened it up, made it safe for students and faculty. I started the feeling that we no longer are going to apologize for the University of Wisconsin, we are gonna go out and brag about what we are gonna do and I am changing the Wisconsin Idea.”

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