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Bigger, More Diverse Panel To Search For Next UW President

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Steve Shupe
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Creative Commons/Flickr
Bascom Hall at UW-Madison.

A larger, more diverse search committee to find the next University of Wisconsin System president was named Friday, following a failed search last year that was widely criticized for breaking with tradition and not including members representing faculty, staff and students.

The 19-member panel announced by the UW System Board of Regents will look for a permanent successor to Ray Cross, who resigned last year. The panel will include representation from a broad cross section of the university, including students, faculty, staff, chancellors and regents.

“We commit to you right now that we are going to bring to you some fabulous candidates," said Karen Walsh, the regent vice president who is leading the search process.

The last search was led by a committee of nine people, half the normal number, and resulted in the name of just one finalist, then-University of Alaska System President Jim Johnson. The announcement drew criticism from faculty and alumni in Alaska, who pointed to two no-confidence votes against him and an accreditation issue.

There was an outcry in Wisconsin as well, with students, faculty, staff and others saying the search process was flawed from the start.

Johnson later withdrew as a candidate for the UW job and resigned at Alaska. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson agreed in July 2020 to serve as interim president after Cross retired. Thompson remains on the job while the search for a permanent president commences.

Walsh acknowledged the shortcomings of the previous search, which concluded during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it a “fairly dark time in the hallways of UW System. ... It was certainly not a happy time."

Walsh said much has been learned since that failed search and the new committee is more diverse because of it. She said everyone who agreed to be on it shares a passion for education that will drive the search.

The only person who served on the previous search committee who is also on the current one is UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

Other members include one former and three current regents; chancellors of the Parkside and Platteville campuses; professors from the Oshkosh, Eau Claire, and Green Bay campuses; students from the La Crosse and Whitewater campuses; other university officials and Paul Shain, vice chair of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association who is also president of Singlewire Software.

The committee is expected to meet in August and schedule listening sessions at all 13 UW System campuses in September. It is also going to hire a national search firm to assist with the goal of naming finalists this fall.

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