Bob Atwell, the GOP regent who had previously planned to stay on the UW board beyond the expiration of his term, tells WisPolitics that he has resigned, effective immediately.

WisPolitics first reported last month that Atwell had sent an email to UW officials indicating he planned to remain on the board for the foreseeable future after GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos advised him he can serve until his successor is appointed and confirmed.

But he reversed course Monday. Along with telling WisPolitics he had resigned, Atwell shared an email he sent to UW President Jay Rothman, Board President Karen Walsh and others in which he wrote his believed his reasons for staying on the board at least through this week’s meeting in Milwaukee were clearly expressed, “but I certainly left room for people to assume I was planning to reenact the scenario playing out on the DNR board.”

That referenced Wausau dentist Fred Prehn, an appointee of former GOP Gov. Scott Walker who refused to step down from his post on the Natural Resources Board even after it had expired. The move blocked Dem Gov. Tony Evers’ appointment from taking a spot on the board, keeping a majority of Walker picks in place.

Atwell, a Walker appointee who received blowback from Dems over his original decision, wrote in the email that was never his intention and his primary focus in staying was working with the Leg Council Study Committee created this spring to study the system’s future.

“The 5 or 6 hate mail contacts I received were particularly unimpressive,” Atwell wrote.

Under Wisconsin court precedent, gubernatorial appointees can remain in their posts after their terms expire until their successors are nominated and confirmed by the state Senate.

Evers on Friday appointed Tim Nixon, a commercial lawyer at Godfrey & Kahn for the firm’s Bankruptcy and Financial Restructuring Team, to replace Atwell. The Walker appointee told WisPolitics his successor will “serve our universities exceptionally well.” 

Walsh, who had discouraged Atwell from remaining in the post, praised his decision to step down.

“Regent Atwell was an outstanding, principled Regent,” she said in a statement to WisPolitics. “Without question, his commitment to and passion for the Universities of Wisconsin run deep. Given that his successor has now been appointed, Bob made the right decision. We look forward to working with him as a member of the legislative council reviewing the system.”

Atwell’s decision clears the way for Nixon to attend and participate in this week’s meeting in Milwaukee, where the regents will select a new president and vice president.

Atwell’s statement to WisPolitics highlighted his interest in the “forthcoming legislative council and the importance of UW’s constructive engagement with the Legislature and all the people we exist to serve.”

GOP lawmakers this spring created a Legislative Council Study Committee on the Future of the University of Wisconsin System. Its charge includes looking at demographic trends affecting the system and its administrative staff needs and governing structure.

In his email to Roth and Walsh, Atwell referenced that work and took a dig at some of those who slammed him over his initial decision.

“There is not a high cost to foaming at the mouth about me, but vilifying the elected body that must approve your budget is kind of dumb,” Atwell wrote. “The UW system is in dire need of reform and a reset in our relationship with all the people of Wisconsin. It is not Tony Evers’ university any more than it was Scott Walker’s.” 

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