Wisconsin Senate panel votes to fire regents who opposed limiting UW diversity efforts

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate Committee on Universities and Revenue voted along party lines to recommend rejecting confirmation for Universities of Wisconsin regents Dana Wachs and John Miller, who opposed a deal limiting campus diversity positions.

Associated Press

March 8, 2024

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A video still image shows six people sitting at a legislative dais in front of microphones and nameplates, with other people seated in chairs behind, in a room with the U.S. and Wisconsin flags on either side of the Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin mounted on the rear wall, with a video graphic at bottom including the text Public Hearing and Senate Committee on Universities and Revenue.

In a WisconsinEye video still image, the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Universities and Revenue holds a hearing on March 6, 2024. The committee recommended on March 7 that the full chamber fire two Universities of Wisconsin regents who vote against a deal that called for limiting campus diversity positions in exchange for state funding. (Credit: Courtesy of WisconsinEye)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state Senate committee is recommending the full chamber fire two Universities of Wisconsin regents who voted against a deal that called for limiting campus diversity positions in exchange for state funding.

The Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Universities and Revenue voted 5-3 along party lines on March 7 to recommend the full body refuse to confirm regents Dana Wachs and John Miller. They voted against the deal twice last December. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed both of them.

The Senate is expected to convene on March 12 for what will likely be its last floor period before the two-year legislative session ends. Asked if appointee confirmations will come up, Brian Radday, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, said only that the agenda won’t be finalized until March 11.

Wachs, an Eau Claire attorney who served three terms in the state Assembly and briefly considered a run for governor in 2018, said in a telephone interview on March 8 that he was disappointed with the committee’s vote and may consider running for Assembly again this fall to help restore civility to state politics.

“This (rejection) may be an example of partisan politics off the rails,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed very much my experience on the Board of Regents. We’ll see what happens later this week. I hope to stay on (the board).”

Miller, who owns a venture capital fund, declined to comment, saying he would wait until the full Senate took action.

The state budget Republicans approved and Evers signed in 2023 called for raises for university employees. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos refused to release the money in an attempt to force regents to reduce the number of positions that work on diversity, equity and inclusion projects. Vos has argued such efforts only foster division, reflecting a broader cultural battle over college diversity initiatives playing out across the country.

Vos reached a deal with regents in December that called for legislators to release the money for the raises and various campus construction projects, including a new engineering building at UW-Madison. In exchange, the regents had to agree to freeze hiring for diversity positions through 2026, shift at least 43 diversity positions to focus on “student success,” eliminate statements supporting diversity on student applications, create a position focused on conservative thought and end an affirmative action hiring program at UW-Madison.

The regents initially rejected the deal on a 9-8 vote. They took another vote four days later, this time approving it 11-6 after regents Amy Blumenfeld Bogost, Jennifer Staton and Karen Walsh flipped from “no” to “yes.”

Wachs and Miller voted against the plan each time. Senate President Chris Kapenga posted on social media between the two votes that standing against the deal would cost them their confirmations.

“It’s good to know before their upcoming Senate confirmation votes that several Regents chose their sacred ideology over getting our students ready for their careers,” Kapenga wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Blumenfeld Bogost, who flipped from “no” to “yes” on the deal, also has not yet been confirmed. The Senate committee on Thursday voted 7-1 to recommend the Senate confirm her.

Senate Republicans have fired 13 Evers appointees thus far by refusing to confirm them.

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