UW Board of Regents rejects deal with Republicans over diversity positions, pay

Universities of Wisconsin regents voted during an emergency meeting to reject a deal a brokered by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to give employees a pay raise and other funding in exchange for reductions in staff positions focused on diversity.

Associated Press

December 10, 2023

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A tower with a brick-and-concrete surface framing 13 stories with four windows apiece stands under a cloudless sky, with sunshine illuminating one side of the building.

Sunlight shines on the west facing side of Van Hise Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on April 2, 2021, in Madison. Universities of Wisconsin regents voted Dec. 9, 2023, to reject a deal reached between system President Jay Rothman and Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos over the status of employee pay raises, the number of diversity-related positions and other budget-related matters. (Credit: Angela Major / WPR)

AP News

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Universities of Wisconsin regents narrowly rejected a deal reached with Republicans that would have given employees a pay raise and paid for construction of a new engineering building in exchange for reductions in staff positions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The regents voted 9-8 during an emergency meeting on Dec. 9 to reject the deal announced Dec. 8 after being brokered by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

“I don’t like this precedent,” Regent Dana Wachs said during the meeting. “We need to make this a welcoming environment.”

The vote was immediately panned by leaders of the Assembly Republican caucus.

“It’s a shame they’ve denied employees their raises and the almost $1 billion investment that would have been made across the UW system, all so they could continue their ideological campaign to force students to believe only one viewpoint is acceptable on campus,” the GOP leaders said in a statement.

Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman said he was disappointed with the regents’ vote.

“On balance, I believe this proposed agreement was in the best interests of the Universities of Wisconsin,” Rothman said.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said the regents were committed to “doing what’s best for our past, present, and future students, faculty, and staff, and the institutions that have defined our state for generations.”

“I believe that’s what they did today in voting their values, and I understand and support their decision and vote,” Evers said.

“In the meantime, I again urge legislative Republicans to release the already-approved UW System employee raises and investments included in the biennial budget that are well overdue,” Evers added.

The deal would have frozen hiring for diversity positions, dropped an affirmative action faculty hiring program at UW-Madison and created a position at the flagship campus focused on conservative thought. The engineering building would have been built at UW-Madison.

Conservatives have long criticized the UW system as a bastion of liberalism. Democrats have accused Republicans of holding employees hostage by blocking pay raises. They argue that diversity initiatives enhance the collegiate experience and play a crucial role in identifying promising students who grew up with fewer resources. The fight in Wisconsin reflects a broader cultural battle playing out across the nation over college diversity initiatives.

Republican lawmakers in June refused to release funding for the new engineering building at UW-Madison, and Vos in October blocked pay raises for employees across the system until it cut spending on positions that promote diversity. Vos refused to allocate funding for the raises even though the state budget that Republicans approved this summer included a 6% raise over the next two years.

Under the deal, the system would have frozen hiring for diversity positions through the end of 2026 and shift at least 43 diversity positions to focus on “student success.” The system also would have eliminated any statements supporting diversity on student applications.

UW-Madison also would have created a position that focuses on conservative political thought funded through donations and scrapped a program designed to recruit diverse faculty.

UW-Madison would have been forced to accept applicants who finish in the top 5% of their class at a Wisconsin high school. Applicants who finish in the top 10% of their class at a Wisconsin high school would have been guaranteed admission at regional campuses.

In exchange, lawmakers would have released money to fund the pay raise for UW employees and about $200 million that UW-Madison officials say they need to build a new engineering building on campus as well as money to renovate dorms on the flagship campus and at UW-Whitewater, Vos’ alma mater.

Editor’s note: PBS Wisconsin is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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