Vos calls for review of diversity positions across state agencies

As a Wisconsin Legislature committee approved pay raises for UW employees, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he anticipates legislators will conduct a review of diversity efforts in state agencies.

Associated Press

December 19, 2023

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Robin Vos stands and faces a microphone, with a high-backed leather and wood chair and a Wisconsin flag behind him, in a room with wood paneling featuring carved relief crests.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos presides over as session of the state Assembly on Oct. 12, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Vos called Dec. 19 for a review of diversity initiatives across state government. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican lawmaker who forced the Universities of Wisconsin to reduce diversity positions called Dec. 19 for an in-depth review of diversity initiatives across state government and repeated his claim that he has only begun to dismantle equity and inclusion efforts in the state.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made the remarks after the Legislature’s employment committee voted to release $107.6 million to cover a 6% raise for about 35,000 UW employees over a two-year period. Vos agreed to release the money for the raises and construction projects across the university system after regents voted Dec. 13 to freeze diversity hires, re-label about 40 diversity positions as “student success” positions and create a position at UW-Madison focused on conservative thought.

Vos, who is white, said after the regent vote that he had only just begun to remove “these cancerous DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) practices” from UW campuses. He signaled on Dec. 19 that he won’t stop there, saying he thinks DEI efforts have divided people and that he wants a truly colorblind society.

“We’re not done yet trying to look at how pervasive DEI is throughout the entire system of state government,” Vos told the committee. “I have faith that legislative Republicans will begin a much needed, long-term, in-depth review of DEI in every state government, be it at the Department of Corrections or the UW system, tech colleges or every part of state government. So stay tuned. This is just the first step and hopefully a lot more to come.”

He then wished everyone a merry Christmas. He quickly left the room after the vote, telling trailing reporters that further details might come later in the week.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The employment committee voted 6-1 to release the money for the raises. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Diane Hesselbein, a committee member, blasted Republicans ahead of the vote for using employee paychecks as a bargaining chip as they pursue an anti-diversity agenda.

Republican Chris Kapenga, who serves as president of the state Senate, was the only committee member to vote against releasing the raises. After the vote, he told reporters that he voted “no” because he wants diversity efforts eliminated altogether.

“I want to see DEI dead,” said Kapenga, who is white. “I think it’s disgusting. … We have laws in the Constitution that protect people for what DEI supposedly does.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to vote this spring on bills that would release funding for the construction projects, including about $200 million for a new engineering building at UW-Madison; $78 million to renovate dorms at UW-Whitewater, Vos’ alma mater; and $45 million for demolition projects across the system.

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

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