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Jay Rothman, chairman and CEO of a Milwaukee law firm, and James Schmidt, chancellor at UW-Eau Claire, will move on as finalists in the University of Wisconsin System's search for a new president.

Jay Rothman, chairman and CEO of a Milwaukee law firm, and James Schmidt, chancellor at UW-Eau Claire, will move on as finalists in the University of Wisconsin System's search for a new president.

This month the Special Regents Committee, a seven-person group led by Regent President Edmund Manydeeds, interviewed semifinalists for the position. In a statement, Manydeeds said they selected Rothman and Schmidt for their "depth and breadth of experience, including in the academic, business, and civic arenas." 

The finalists will interview Tuesday with the Special Regent Committee and other groups, including shared governance representatives, chancellors and UW System executive leaders.

The UW System anticipates it will announce an official hire by the end of January, pending approval from the Board of Regents. According to a statement from Regent Karen Walsh, who heads the 21-person search and screen committee, there will be no public session with the finalists because of "the extraordinary public input in the process so far."

Rothman, 62, received a bachelor's degree from Marquette University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. He has served as chairman and CEO of the Foley & Lardner law firm since June 2011. For 24 years, he has also served as a partner of the organization. 

Schmidt, 57, describes himself as a "champion of American public higher education." Since July 2013, he has served as chancellor of UW-Eau Claire. Schmidt also previously served in Minnesota as vice president for university advancement at Winona State University and vice president for student affairs at Riverland Community College. 

He holds a doctorate in educational policy and administration from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Winona State University. 

“We have identified two excellent candidates, each of whom would be an outstanding leader for our university system,” Manydeeds said in a statement. “We believe their qualifications and experience provide the committee a great opportunity to pick a future leader for the UW System.”

The chosen candidate will replace interim leader Tommy Thompson, who stepped in for outgoing president Ray Cross nearly two years ago. Thompson announced last week that he will leave UW System on March 18.

A previous search in 2020 failed to find a successor for Cross. This was after the UW System named Jim Johnsen, former president of the University of Alaska System, as the single, unanimously chosen finalist. He abruptly withdrew from consideration for the top slot following pushback from UW-Madison students and faculty. 

University of Alaska System faculty expressed their disapproval of Johnsen through votes of no confidence and calls for his removal from office as early as 2017.

The current president search also overlaps with UW-Madison's search for a chancellor to replace Rebecca Blank. In a Monday forum for campus input on the next chancellor, Walsh said Thompson's last day is likely to fall before the next System president is in place, but "we have a contingency plan." 

"We don't anticipate any huge problems executing that," she said. "I think what (Thompson) wants is to make room for that transition to pick up steam and to be executed in a constructive way.

"There are lots of things that (the president) will need to learn, and we have people who are already working on how that transition will take place." 

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