Old white man named university president — and watch out below!

In national news, Amy Klobuchar asks Joe Biden
to name a black, female running mate

Tommy Thompson is an argument for the Great Man theory of history.  Examinations of mass movements and socio-economic factors are instructive (if a little Marxist) but the occasional supernova individual bends history to his making. 

Want to argue this? 

Tommy Thompson was the most consequential governor since the first La Follette (1901-1906) and the under-appreciated Francis McGovern, who presided over the historic 1911 legislature that created worker’s comp and a host of other programs.

⇒ In the intervening 70 years, Gaylord Nelson (state parks), Warren Knowles (Interstate highway system — my father chaired the Assembly Highway Committee), and Patrick Lucey (merged the two state university systems) were near-great governors. Maybe Phil La Follette during the 1930s.

What’s more, Tommy Thompson made his magic against (and sometimes in concert with) Democrats controlling one or both houses of the legislature for most of his record 14 years (3½ terms) in office. Plus, the former U.S. Secretary of Health’s background (2001-05) and sincere interest in health will serve the state well in the novel coronavirus pandemic (over-hyped though it is).

The head groundskeeper at the Werkes was privileged to work for the man — never worked so hard in my life but he worked harder. Tommy knows how to bend the bureaucracy to his will while winning over (or, at the least, neutralizing) the various constituencies. Believe him when he vows to be the university system’s “biggest advocate and toughest evaluator.”


The Sun Prairie crew: Jerry Derr, the Big Guy, David & Mike Blaska, Mark O’Connell and Patrick Braun at Tommy’s sheepshead card table in Elroy WI; Jerry Bradley not pictured.

A big-tent reformer

Tommy Thompson was (and we hope still is) a reformer! He reformed welfare with work-to-independence programs and liberals hated him for it because the progressive enterprise requires victims as its raison d’etre. He reformed education with school choice to help minority students succeed. His reward: teachers unions and their political party (and fellow travelers in the news media) despised him. Tommy Thompson in 1986 said the Badgers would go to the Rose Bowl and the Green Bay Packers would win the Super Bowl and the cognoscenti sneered that he was a cheerleader. 

Wisconsin needed a cheerleader then
and it needs one now.

⇒ Thompson also set aside more acreage for conservation than any governor before or since and started BadgerCare.

Don’t know how much gas in the tank Tommy has at age 78 — people who have seen him more recently than I say he looks great; he’s taken up bicycling — but our guess is that he’s still running on high octane. 

He is justly revered by the Republicans in the sometimes antagonist legislature now feuding with a weak governor addicted to educational faddism. What the University of Wisconsin most emphatically did NOT need was another Jennifer Cheatham or a faceless educational bureaucrat, an Ade Sponberg type (if anyone still remembers that athletic director, way over his head, in the Don Morton era). Who WAS that guy from Alaska, anyway? Sarah Palin’s ex?

Tommy T

Tommy and Sue Ann Thompson with their personal friends Barbara and George Bush Sr.

Won’t be a placeholder

Thompson should immediately move to protect open intellectual inquiry and free speech on campus, including that of conservatives. The entire grievance studies scaffolding should be put on the curb. One or two campuses — and several two-year campuses — need to be consolidated. Tommy will help recruit superstar researchers. Better should be his mantra, not bigger. 

Was surprised to learn today that the president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has the power to unilaterally, appoint interim presidents of the System. If so, Regent Drew Peterson (who?) appointed well. Bonus points for appointing an old white male in the teeth of the identity politics storm.

Blaska’s Bottom Lines: Tommy gets at least one year at the helm. The Regents should give him two more right off the bat. Universities are in crisis whether they know it or not.

If the Madison school board had any sense (there is no evidence for it) it would appoint a Tommy Thompson (maybe a few years younger) as its superintendent. It would name Kaleem Caire.

What should Tommy’s first act as UW president be?

About David Blaska

Madison WI
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5 Responses to Old white man named university president — and watch out below!

  1. Jack Sanderson says:

    Gov. Thompson should free speech on campus and create penalties for any mob tactics designed to shut down conservative guest speakers. He should revamp the hiring process to treat conservative professors and educators as minority beneficiaries with the goal of equalizing the academic staff between left and right. And radical left professors demonizing America and advocating marxism should have their tenure revoked and their future UW employment reviewed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dad29 says:

    One or two campuses — and several two-year campuses — need to be consolidated.

    I think demographics would point to three or four campuses, friend. Demography–and good, stiff, entrance requirements (not likely, ever) will make the system affordable for taxpayers–and perhaps even students–again.

    I know you love Tommy, but forgive me: I’m one of the ones he wanted “SCREWED” with a Stadium tax, so I’ll be the loyal dissent.


  3. Scott F says:

    “ The head groundskeeper at the Werkes was privileged to work for the man — never worked so hard in my life but he worked harder.“

    Everyone, at least once in their life, should have the privilege of working in this scenario. Everything that I have ever accomplished that was of quality, substance or importance came from having worked for and learned from such a man.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Larsen E. Whipsnade says:

    I’m proud to say I knew the great Lee Dreyfus and always have greatly admired Tommy Thompson. Nothing but good can come of Tommy taking on this job!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My guess is that Biden asked Klobuchar to bow out in order to spare him the flak for not choosing her, (his best choice to get elected.) As the governor who never charged a cop in the multiple shootings there, she would be an easy target.


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