MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin system leaders on Friday chose Jay Rothman, a Milwaukee business attorney with no…
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin system leaders on Friday selected Jay Rothman, a Milwaukee business lawyer with no experience in higher education administration, as the next president to lead the 26-campus system. .
The Regents chose Rothman, chairman and CEO of law firm Foley & Lardner, over the other runner-up, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. The system said in a statement that Rothman had accepted the position and would start on June 1.
Rothman will earn $550,000 a year as the system’s eighth president. Regent Karen Walsh, who led the system’s presidential search committee, called him a “servant leader” who builds consensus.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to lead the UW system and approach this role with deep respect for the unprecedented role that public higher education plays in the lives of our students, alumni, and communities,” said Rothman in a statement. “I intend to lead by listening first, so that the experience I have gained during my life in Wisconsin can help us build a great UW system together.
The move comes after the system went nearly two years without a permanent president. Former Governor Tommy Thompson has served as interim president since Ray Cross retired in June 2020.
The Regents offered the permanent president position to Jim Johnsen, then president of the University of Alaska, the month Cross retired, but Johnsen withdrew from consideration amid concerns over his record unequal in Alaska and massive backlash about the selection process in Wisconsin. Faculty, staff and students complained loudly that they were not involved in the research committee.
Also this time around, several groups of professors complained that the regents had never kept public forms where professors could interview Rothman and Schmidt. Regent Karen Walsh, who led the search committee, countered that the panel did not need to hold forums because it had received many contributions from the public during listening sessions last fall.
Thompson plans to step down on March 18. Regents chairman Edmund Manydeeds III said in the system statement that he had asked former Regents chairman Mike Falbo to serve as interim chairman from this date until Rothman takes over. June 1.
Rothman, 62, has been president and chief executive officer of Foley & Lardner since 2011. He joined the law firm in 1986 and has been a partner since 1994. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and a a law degree from Harvard.
He has no experience in higher education administration. He told reporters at a press conference earlier this month that his tenure as head of the law firm was coming to an end and he was looking to start a new chapter in his life.
Foley & Lardner is based in Milwaukee and has 1,100 attorneys and 22 offices nationwide. Rothman said his experience leading the company prepared him well to manage the UW system of 26 campuses and 165,000 students.
Rothman inherits a system still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and suffering from strained relations with Republican lawmakers.
Cross retired after a spring 2020 semester that saw all classes go virtual. Thompson pushed for a return to an in-person setting this fall, but drew the ire of fellow Republicans when he implemented mask and testing mandates. Sen. Steve Nass threatened to sue the system, but Thompson failed to budget and the GOP eventually backed down.
Rothman will also have to weigh whether to raise tuition, always a thorny issue. Thompson persuaded Republican lawmakers to lift an eight-year freeze on undergraduate tuition in the state last summer. The Regents chose not to raise tuition fees this year out of consideration for families struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, but Rothman will have to review the potential increase in the system’s next budget this summer.
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