UW regents to vote again on Republican deal to cut diversity staff for cash

Universities of Wisconsin regents held a closed meeting on Dec. 12, and are set to hold an open meeting on Dec. 13 to vote again on a proposal to reduce diversity positions in exchange for employee raises and funding for construction projects.

Associated Press

December 12, 2023

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A still image from a video livestream shows Jay Rothman, with a banner in the background showing an outline of the state showing the location of each campus connected by lines and the words Future Ready. and For All.

A still image from a video livestream shows Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman giving a press conference on Dec 8, 2023. Rothman declined to reveal what the system's regents discussed in a closed meeting on Dec. 12, 2023, after they had rejected a deal with Republican lawmakers that would have required campuses to slash diversity positions and scrap an affirmative action program at UW-Madison in exchange for employee raises and funding for construction projects. (Source: Universities of Wisconsin)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Universities of Wisconsin regents have decided to vote again on a deal with Republican lawmakers that calls for reducing diversity positions in exchange for funding to cover employee raises and campus construction projects, including a new engineering building at UW-Madison.

The regents rejected the deal on a 9-8 vote on Dec. 9. They met in a closed video conference, however on the morning of Dec. 12. Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman declined to reveal what was discussed to reporters. Hours later, the regents posted notice that they’d scheduled an open meeting for the late afternoon of Dec. 13 to vote again on the proposal.

The agenda indicates that Regent Amy Blumenfeld Bogost, who voted against the deal on Dec. 9, is now requesting adoption. She did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press on Tuesday evening. The voicemail at her Madison law office was full.

Republican Chris Kapenga, president of the state Senate, tweeted on Dec. 11 that the Senate may not confirm regents who voted against the deal. Regents Blumenfeld Bogost, John Miller and Dana Wachs all voted against the plan; none of them have been confirmed yet. Wisconsin law allows gubernatorial appointees such as UW regents to serve until and if the Senate votes to reject confirmation.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has blocked a 6% raise for the university system’s employees in an effort to force the regents to reduce the number of positions that work on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Vos insists such efforts only create division. The fight reflects a broader cultural battle over college diversity initiatives playing out across the nation.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the raise in the state budget passed in the summer of 2023, but Vos has blocked a GOP-controlled legislative employment committee from releasing the money. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court arguing that lawmakers have overstepped their constitutional authority by blocking the raises.

On Dec. 8, Rothman unveiled a deal he brokered with Vos that calls for releasing the money for the raises as well as funding various construction projects on campuses, including $200 million for a new UW-Madison engineering building, a top priority for officials at the flagship campus.

To obtain the money, the universities would have had to freeze hiring for diversity positions through the end of 2026, shift at least 43 current diversity positions to focus on “student success” and eliminate statements supporting diversity on student applications. UW-Madison would have to drop its affirmative action faculty hiring program and create a position focused on conservative thought.

Democratic legislators have urged regents to reject the deal, saying the proposal sells out students and faculty.

Evers issued a statement saying he supported the regents’ decision to reject the deal on Dec. 9. He called on Republicans to simply release funding for the raises as negotiated in the state budget and admonished them for resorting to threats “when they don’t get their way.”

“Rash political decisions, rhetoric, and threats help no one,” the governor said. “Conversations regarding critical, necessary investments in the UW system should continue in the weeks ahead, and it would be my expectation that all parties be interested, engaged, and meaningful participants in that process.”

Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison’s student government group, blasted the regents’ decision to vote again in a scathing news release.

“This deal tarnishes the student experience,” the group said. “It disparages the prospect of belonging at our University for those of us who come from historically underrepresented communities … Our statement is clear: NO DEAL.”

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

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