Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson joked that he got one of the only standing ovations he has seen at a board of regents meeting when the former governor presented his biennial budget request.
That applauded budget request seeks a $96 million increase to allow for programs such as a tuition promise program that would provide free four years of tuition for students from families making $60,000 or less annually.
The budget, which the regents approved, will be sent to the governor for consideration in his budget proposal that he will roll out early next year.
Thompson said at a Milwaukee Press Club event Friday that the investment in the university system is a win for the state.
“When you look at the state of Wisconsin, their contribution–it’s about 17 cents out of every dollar which we need to operate the University of Wisconsin system,” he said.
“I ask you, if you would give me 17 cents and I return and give you 83 cents back. How often would you do that? Quite a bit, wouldn’t you?”
This comes however, as the university system is facing economic fallout due to the pandemic. The governor has ordered the system to find $110 million in cuts between 2020 and 2023.
Gov. Tony Evers said Friday he had a good conversation with Thompson about the request, but that he could not make any commitments on how he will divvy up funding in the next budget.
“We also have to put it in the context of our own budget,” Evers said. “Was I encouraged that he was asking for and talking about the right things? Yes, but I made no commitment as to what I’m supporting or not supporting at this time.”
Against the backdrop of the economic fallout, UW campuses are still working to prepare for welcoming students back amid the pandemic. As Michigan State, another Big Ten school, moved this week to cancel in-person classes, Thompson said there was no public plan to determine whether UW schools would end in-person instruction.
“They’re in my head,” he said.
“We’re going to have cases, there is no question about it,” Thompson said. “We’re gonna do everything we can through our testing to be able to protect [campuses] and to protect individuals.”
He said that he was confident in the preparedness of the system schools, especially regarding their testing capacity.
“I think our regimen and our plan is as good or better than any other university I’ve seen,” Thompson said.
He added that he supported the decision by the Big Ten athletic conference to shift fall sports to the spring.
“It is a dangerous disease, it’s a dangerous virus, and we’ve got to protect our student athletes, we’ve got to protect our students, we’ve got to protect the system,” he said.