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Vos announcing Thompson Center (copy)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announces plans  for the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership in May 2017.

The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison won’t be funding any research in its first year of operation, members of its governing board learned Tuesday.

Time to review proposals and award such grants has run out.

The center also is unlikely to be able to fund speakers at UW campuses outside Madison — a major goal of state funding for the center — in the first semester of the 2018-2019 academic year. The clock on soliciting and reviewing proposals for that probably has run out as well.

And the Public Leadership Board of the center still has not hired a permanent director.

The Thompson Center would receive $3 million in state funding in the 2017-2019 budget, with $500,000 each year to be spent to finance appearances by speakers at UW campuses outside Madison, legislative leaders announced in May 2017. But only about $80,000 was spent in the following academic year to help fund speakers on UW System campuses, primarily in previously planned appearances. Research grants were budgeted at $500,000 for the center’s inaugural year, but time has run out, reported officials of the College of Letters and Science, which will work with the center board to solicit and select projects.

Members of the center’s governing Public Leadership Board, most nominated by Republican majority leaders in the Legislature, had been named by November. But the board did not meet until April 30. An advisory committee assembled of UW-Madison faculty also has a role in leading the center.

Board chair Scott Jensen and acting director Ryan Owens said the extension of the legislative session last spring contributed to a late start for the board.

Board member Robin Vos is Assembly speaker, and Jensen and Robert Cook are lobbyists.

The center’s slow start is a good thing, Vos said.

”I think it’s wise we are taking our time — so for anyone who has concerns as to why we did not hurry and spend this money, it’s a good indicator that the board is doing its due diligence to make sure the money is being spent wisely,” he said.

Vos said that with the Legislature out of session, its Joint Finance Committee is not scheduled and unlikely to meet before the start of the next session. Yet board members voted Tuesday to ask the committee to make funds unspent this year available next year.

“If we are granted those funds, we’ll have the ability to have a more robust process in the second year of the biennium. If not, we’ll proceed with what we have,” Vos said.

Members of the public leadership board expressed confidence in working with the faculty advisory committee to select research projects. Faculty members can offer expertise in what topics are scientifically “researchable” and who among faculty on UW campuses has expertise in the area, Owens said.

Members of the governing board, meanwhile, have a grasp on what policy needs are, said Jensen.

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Vos repeated his goal that research focus on practical topics, “things that could be made into policy in, say, the next 10 years.”

Informal discussions with members of the advisory committee on possible research areas should begin soon, with the board taking up some possibilities at its next meeting on June 25.

John Karl Scholz, dean of Letters and Science, spoke to another concern of board members: who has the authority to evaluate and, if needed, cut short the statutorily set three-year term of any center director?

Scholz assured board members that it makes sense to have them evaluate a director’s performance, as well as faculty advisors.

“I would love to have the public leadership board provide an annual evaluation,” Scholz said.

Performance expectations for the position will be written up and adopted before the public leadership board votes on an executive director at its next meeting, members decided.

Scholz added that he would hope the final decision on terminating a director if that ever is required would be left to him, something board members seemed to accept.

“This is a new venture,” Scholz said. “We are deadly serious about making it work.”

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