University of Wisconsin regents reject deal with Republicans to cut diversity positions

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

The regents voted 9-8 during an emergency meeting to reject the the deal was reached on Friday after mediation by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Voss.

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

The vote was immediately rejected by Assembly Republican caucus leaders.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Madison, Wis.  LeMahieu said she opposes a bill from fellow Republicans that would seek to dissolve the Wisconsin Election Commission and give the GOP-controlled Legislature the ultimate power to oversee elections.  (AP Photo/Harm Venhuizen)

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

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

“Ultimately, I believe this proposed agreement is in the best interest of Wisconsin universities,” Rathman said.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said the regents are 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 they did that today by 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 long overdue,” Evers added.

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

Conservatives have long criticized the UW system as a bastion of liberalism. Democrats have accused Republicans of holding workers hostage by blocking wage increases. They argue that diversity initiatives enhance the collegiate experience and play a critical 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 college diversity initiatives.

Republican lawmakers in June refused to grant funding for the new engineering building at UW-Madison and Vos in October blocked wage increases for employees across the system until it reduces the cost of positions that promote diversity. Vos refused to fund the raises, even though the state budget that Republicans approved this summer included a 6 percent increase over the next two years.

Under the deal, the system will freeze hiring for diversity positions until the end of 2026 and move at least 43 diversity positions to focus on “student success.” The system would also eliminate any statements supporting diversity in student applications.

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

UW-Madison would be forced to accept applicants who graduate in the top 5% of their Wisconsin high school class. Applicants who graduate in the top 10% of their Wisconsin high school class would be guaranteed admission to regional campuses.

In return, lawmakers would have allocated money to fund pay raises 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 residence halls on the flagship campus and at UW -Whitewater, Voss’ alma mater.

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