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Assembly Dems urge UW Regents to reject deal that would cut DEI in exchange for funding


Democrats in the State Assembly are calling on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to reject a deal brokered between Republicans in the state legislature and Universities of Wisconsin president Jay Rothman, and are circulating a petition to reinforce that message.

Assembly Democrats put together a “toolkit” for concerned citizens to advocate against the deal.

The deal, first made public earlier Friday, calls for the Universities of Wisconsin to:

  • Reorient one-third of its positions related to diversity, equity and inclusion to focus instead of “student success,” effectively eliminating 43 DEI positions over the next two years
  • Not increase the number of DEI positions system-wide until 2027
  • Create and fund with private donations an endowed chair to focus on conservative political thought, classical economic theory, or classical liberalism, depending on the donor’s interest
  • Eliminate the “Targets of Opportunity” program and instead create an alternative program focused on recruiting faculty (regardless of their identity or ethnic/racial background) who have demonstrated the ability to mentor “at risk” and/or underrepresented students
  • Automatically admit the top 10% of graduating seniors to UW System school and the top five percent to UW-Madison

The DEI positions will be reoriented toward “student success” through through “a mixture of normal attrition and active restructuring and reimagining of the DEI function.”

In exchange, the legislature will approve cost of living raises for UW System employees – raises previously approved by the legislature but blocked by the Joint Committee on Employee Relations. Additionally, the legislature will approve $32 million in supplemental funding as well as funding for a new engineering building and residence halls at UW-Madison as well as a building project at UW-Whitewater.

In a letter accompanying the petition, Assembly Democrats wrote, “We see Republican Legislators’ attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion at our universities for what they are — attempts to divide us and foment culture wars at the expense of the wellbeing of all of our students. Removing DEI initiatives is counter to the mission of the Universities of Wisconsin and will undermine students’ sense of belonging for years to come.”

Democratic legislators criticized the lack of transparency in the negotiations.

“We just found out about this less than 48 hours ago,” said Lori Palmeri, a State Representative from Oshkosh. She said her objections, beyond the undermining of DEI efforts, included “the deal making (and) lack of transparency. The short window between the discussion by the Regents and the actual vote … coming up tomorrow without opportunity for public input. There are just so so many frustrations here.”

She hopes the petition will “delay the vote, give more folks time to weigh in.”

“I am proud to stand firm with my Democratic colleagues in opposition to this deal, and I sincerely hope that the Board of Regents will vote to reject it,” State Rep Samba Baldeh said in a text message to Madison365. “Our diversity makes us a stronger society and enriches our communities, and nothing is worth trading for that. I encourage students, faculty and staff, and community members to sign on to our open letter and show the Board of Regents that we won’t accept this clear attack on our universities and our minority students.”

In a statement to UW-Madison employees and students, Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said she hoped the Regents would approve the deal. She said she’d been “an active participant” in the negotiations.

“In reaching this agreement, I want to assure you in no uncertain terms that we have upheld and continue to uphold our core values,” she wrote.

The Board of Regents meeting will take place over Zoom at 10 am Saturday. It is open to the public and can be viewed at this link.