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Universities of Wisconsin Regents Reject Deal to Cut Diversity Efforts

The Universities of Wisconsin (UW) Board of Regents rejected a deal that the school system had made with state Republicans to halt UW diversity efforts in exchange for funding and employee raises.UW Board of Regents Member Angela AdamsUW Board of Regents Member Angela Adams

The regents’ decision – a close 9-8 vote – came during an Dec. 9 emergency meeting after school leaders had agreed on Dec. 8 to acquiesce to Republican demands by freezing the hiring for diversity positions through the end of 2026; moving more than 40 diversity positions to “student success;” removing statements supporting diversity on student applications; dismantling a UW-Madison affirmative action faculty hiring program; and establishing a role about conservative political thought.

Wisconsin Republicans have demonstrated clear opposition against the Universities of Wisconsin’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. According to PBS, GOP legislators cut system funding in June 2023 by $32 million. They also denied funding for an engineering building at UW-Madison, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Later in the year, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also began calling for UW to cut DEI spending by $32 million, withholding allocation of funding for UW employee pay raises until the school system agreed to his demand. Vos made this threat despite the raises having already been approved in the state budget earlier in 2023. 

Vos has called DEI programs a waste of public funding and that promoting diversity widened divisions amongst people. His comments echo increasingly popular anti-DEI sentiments among U.S. lawmakers on the right.

UW leaders’ deal with Republicans on Friday would have resulted in the funding for a 6% UW employee raise over two years; a new engineering building – approximately $200 million; and dorm renovations.

With this rejection from regents, all that money remains at a standstill.

The agreement would have also required UW-Madison to accept applicants who were the top 5% of their class at a Wisconsin high school and regional campuses to accept those in the top 10%.

In a public statement Saturday, UW-Madison Chancellor Dr. Jennifer L. Mnookin said she was disappointed by the rejection but respected the board’s decision.

“I recognize this was an imperfect compromise, but I nonetheless supported it as the best way to move the priorities of our campus forward,” Mnookin said on Saturday. “I will continue to work with Universities of Wisconsin leadership, the Regents, legislative leaders and governor on these important issues over the coming weeks and months.”

The board members who voted in favor of the deal were Ashok Rai, Bob Atwell, Mike Jones, and Cris Peterson, Héctor Colón, Kyle Weatherly, and Jim Kreuser, and Mark Tyler. Those who voted against were Angela Adams, Karen Walsh, Amy Bogost, Evan Brenkus, Edmund Manydeeds III, John Miller, Joan Prince, Jennifer Staton and Dana Wachs.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Regent Angela Adams said during the Saturday meeting that the state legislature’s proposal was unacceptable.

“To finally and begrudgingly propose to start funding the universities in exchange for insulting people historically excluded and underrepresented in higher education is a nonstarter for me,” Adams said Saturday. “It's divisive, it's polarizing, and will ultimately lead to even more negative effects on the university system for decades to come."

Manydeeds said in an email Tuesday afternoon that he was unable to comment.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers urged Republicans to release the raises and “investments included in the biennial budget that are well overdue.”

“It’s clear the regents are deeply divided over this proposal, have immense concerns about this process and the difficult position they were put in, and are all committed to their charge—doing what’s best for our past, present, and future students, faculty, and staff, and the institutions that have defined our state for generations,” Evers said. “I believe that’s what they did today in voting their values, and I understand and support their decision and vote.”

Though Republicans have said they are not open to making changes, according to ABC News, Evers asked for the lawmakers to stay involved in discussions to come.

The Board of Regents was scheduled to meet again today in closed session to “deliberate and negotiate funding proposals and matters,” ABC News reported.

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