Home Wisconsin “DEI is non-negotiable.” UW Regents reject deal to cut DEI in exchange...

“DEI is non-negotiable.” UW Regents reject deal to cut DEI in exchange for cash

UW Board of Regents. Photo supplied.

The Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents narrowly rejected a deal that would have forced a one-third reduction in the workforce dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion and the funding of an endowed chair in conservative thought in exchange for state approval of employee pay raises and state funds for building projects.

Nine of the 17 Regents present at a special meeting Saturday voted against the measure. Regents Angela Adams, Amy Blumenfeld Bogost, Evan Brenkus, Edmund Manydeeds III, John Miller, Joan Prince, Jennifer Staton, Dana Wachs and Karen Walsh all voted no. Regents Robert Atwell, Héctor Colón, Mike Jones, Jim Kreuser, Cris Peterson, Ashok Rai, Mark Tyler and Kyle Weatherly voted to approve the deal. Regent Jill Underly was absent.

The deal, struck betwen Universities of Wisconsin president Jay Rothman, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and at least some UW chancellors, received sharp criticism Friday not only for its content but the process by which it was reached and made public. In a statement to faculty and students, UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said she’d been involved in negotiations with legislative Republicans and UW System president Jay Rothman for six months, but legislative Democrats weren’t aware of the deal until late Wednesday. It was made public Friday morning, 24 hours before the special meeting — the minimum amount of public notice required by open meetings law.

“There was no opportunity for input from the folks who are going to be most impacted — our students, our faculty, staff, alumni, families, community members,” State Rep. Francesca Hong said in an interview Saturday.

Beginning Friday afternoon, Democrats from the State Assembly circulated a petition urging the Regents to reject the deal; Hong said about 1,100 people signed it in just over 17 hours.

“Ultimately, you cannot put a price tag on the culture and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. No matter how much you try to rebrand it, the precedent that this would set, that we don’t prioritize this, that we don’t prioritize our students who are coming from underserved backgrounds, would have generational consequences,” Hong said. “I’m just incredibly proud that the folks that we asked to step up, truly did in a very short amount of time. And ultimately, democracy got a win.”

The proposed deal, first made public earlier Friday, called 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.

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.

“There’s more work to be done” to ensure university employees get their approve pay raises and the building projects are funded, Hong said. “(Vos’s) constituents, and some of his biggest special interest donors, want the engineering building. They want these pay raises. He should give them what they want without without negotiating DEI and I think that’s imperative that we have the united message that DEI is non-negotiable.”