Former Gov. Tommy Thompson speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol in Madison, on Monday, January 23, 2017. PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson was appointed interim president of the UW System today, one week after the only finalist to replace the retiring Ray Cross pulled out of the process.

Regent President Andrew Petersen, an appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker, made the appointment after consulting with the board at yesterday’s meeting.

In a statement, Petersen said he asked Thompson to take on the interim role because of his legacy of bringing people together. The appointment is effective July 1.

“Governor Thompson is a statesman who offers the kind of leadership the UW System needs right now,” Petersen said.

In the announcement, Regent Karen Walsh, an appointee of Gov. Tony Evers, also praised the move, calling Thompson a pragmatic leader who “has my confidence.”

Thompson requested the minimum salary for a president of $489,334, according to the university.

University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen a week ago pulled out of the search to replace Ray Cross after he was the only finalist for the job. That search was criticized because no faculty or staff served on the committee and because there were no other alternatives presented besides Johnsen, who faced a pair of no-confidence votes from University of Alaska faculty as he led the system through budget cuts. In his announcement, Johnsen hinted at the furor that erupted over the process, saying “it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.”

A new search won’t start for at least a year, and Thompson will serve until a permanent appointment is named.

Thompson, the only guv elected to four terms in Wisconsin history, was a champion of the UW System during his time in the East Wing. Since leaving the guv’s office in 2001 to serve as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, Thompson has from time to time been raised as a possible candidate to lead the UW System. Under university policy, interim appointments are barred from seeking a full-time appointment unless they seek a waiver.

“The University of Wisconsin System is the state’s most valuable asset, and I will be its biggest advocate and its toughest evaluator,” Thompson said. “No other institution in the state can do more to improve lives, communities, and Wisconsin’s economy.”

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