Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, March 3, 2016

La Follette nominee Thompson to receive honorary degree

Tommy Thompson Tommy Thompson

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson will receive an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison this May. The La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science nominated Thompson, who received bachelor’s and law degrees from UW–Madison in the 1960s.

Thompson was the longest serving governor in Wisconsin’s history, from 1987 to 2001, when President George W. Bush named him secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Reforms he championed in the area of welfare and health care served as models for other states and the nation.

“Governor Thompson was a dedicated promoter of the Wisconsin Idea and the use of government to enhance the lives of its citizens,” wrote nominator Raymond Taffora, vice chancellor for legal affairs at UW–Madison and former chief legal counsel to Thompson during his first term of office. “He was also an energetic executive, using the powers of his office to effect policy change and state action to promote Wisconsin throughout the nation. The university was treated well by Governor Thompson during his 14 years in office. He was (and remains) an intelligent, curious, compassionate and consequential leader.”

In 2014, Thompson gave the Paul Offner Lecture at UW-Madison. The lecture series, which is sponsored by the La Follette School and the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., commemorates Offner, who served with Thompson in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1974 to 1976.

Honorary degrees from UW–Madison recognize individuals with careers of extraordinary accomplishment. The Committee on Honorary Degrees looks to sustained and characteristic activity as its warrant: uncommonly meritorious activity exhibiting values that are esteemed by a great university.

The Committee also selected Lynsey Addario, who was nominated by the Department of French and Italian, and William J. Rutter, who was nominated by the Department of Biochemistry.

A 1995 UW-Madison alumna, Addario is an acclaimed photojournalist whose work documenting global conflicts and human suffering has often come at great personal risk. Rutter, a founder of the field of biotechnology, has made seminal contributions in both academia and industry. Details are online

The honorary degrees, as well as doctoral and some professional degrees, will be presented at the 5:30 p.m. commencement ceremony on Friday, May 13 at the Kohl Center. 

Thompson also will address the La Follette School Class of 2016 during its graduation ceremony at the State Capitol on May 15.