When he toured the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus Tuesday, July 13, UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson made a day of it.

He walked through buildings, drove the grounds via golf cart, met with student governance groups, members of the University Staff Senate, Academic Staff Senate and Faculty Senate as well as area business and civic leaders. He capped it off with an in-depth look at the UWS Lake Superior Research Institute's Montreal Pier facility.

“We left Madison at eight o’clock this morning and landed, and then we’ve been going full-tilt ever since,” the former governor said. “What a beautiful campus and what a beautiful city. It’s growing. I’m excited about it.”

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It was a time for campus administrators and staff to share their work, said Jordan Milan, UWS director of strategic communications and special assistant to UWS Chancellor Renee Wachter.

For Thompson, Superior is more than a name on a map. In fact, Thompson moved state government to the city in 1987 as a way to connect with residents of Douglas County.

“When I ran for governor, I came up here and people said ‘We don’t really trust anybody from below Eau Claire’ and ‘Nobody cares about us,’ and ‘If you get elected, you wouldn’t come back,’” Thompson recalled.

He only got 20% of the vote in Douglas County, but he came back. Thompson and his cabinet members made the trek north for one week. They set up shop in the UWS chancellor's office and even took on local residents in a softball game.

“They beat us,” he said. “Then we had pizza and beer and everybody had a good time.”

UWS Lake Superior Research Institute Director Dr. Matt TenEyck (left) leads University of Wisconsin System Interim President Tommy Thompson on a tour of the LSRI Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Superior.  (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
UWS Lake Superior Research Institute Director Dr. Matt TenEyck (left) leads University of Wisconsin System Interim President Tommy Thompson on a tour of the LSRI Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Superior. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

During that stay, Thompson said he got to know UWS well.

“I walked every step of the campus,” Thompson said, both in 1987 and in tours since then.

When asked what changes he noted during this walk-through, he pointed to the atmosphere.

“What I’ve seen is a more positive attitude, a more can-do attitude,” Thompson said. “Plus the staff, I think, is exceptional.”

University of Wisconsin System Interim President Tommy Thompson talks about his vision for UW-Superior after a tour of the UWS Lake Superior Research Institute Tuesday, July 13, 2021.  (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
University of Wisconsin System Interim President Tommy Thompson talks about his vision for UW-Superior after a tour of the UWS Lake Superior Research Institute Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

He discussed his vision for the campus, which included a number of development opportunities for campus sites, from athletic and co-curricular facilities to possible private-public partnerships. With one year left as interim president, Thompson said he wants to get moving and get things done.

The UW System Board of Regents recently began its search for a new president. Thompson said he feels they need someone who will look at the system from a business perspective and will continue the work he’s started.

“I would like somebody who’s going to be as dedicated as I am to making this a system, not a confederation of 13 universities,” Thompson said. While they are disparate parts, “the strength is in all of us," he said.

In April, Thompson launched a new procurement system, which allows supplies to be purchased in bulk and distributed to campuses. The new purchasing system, called Shop UW+, streamlines the work related to payment and procurement of supplies and vendor services.

Having to print and sign documents during the pandemic was challenging because most employees were working from home, Milan said. The new setup makes the process much smoother.

"Shop UW+ has eliminated the physical paperwork and made purchasing much more efficient — now purchases can be approved with a click of a button instead of printing and signing documents," she said.

Thompson said he’s got ideas for transforming the UW System's financial and human relations programs, as well.

“I think my time is running out, but I’m going to keep pushing the envelope," he said.

When asked why the UW System Board of Regents decided not to raise tuition for the 2021-2022 school year, something the Legislature approved in its biennial budget, Thompson said it came down to timing. Raising tuition two months before school starts could cause an unnecessary burden on students.

“I’m smart and I’m a politician, and why would I want to make people angry?” Thompson said.