Home Wisconsin Regents reverse course, approve DEI-cuts-for-cash deal

Regents reverse course, approve DEI-cuts-for-cash deal

UW Board of Regents. Photo supplied.

The Unversities of Wisconsin Board of Regents approved a deal that will free up pay raises for 34,000 employees and fund two major building projects, including a new engineering building at the flagship Madison campus, in exchange for realigning one-third of the university system’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) staff toward “student success,” just four days after rejecting the same deal.

Regents Karen Walsh, Amy Bogost and Jennifer Staton changed their votes from no to yes, swinging the total from 9-8 against to 11-6 in favor.

Two Regents who voted no cited the dangerous precendent they fear it would set.

“What will the concession be next time?” Regent John Miller asked rhetorically. “The Board of Regents does not have the authority to appropriate money or to grant pay raises. That power rests, appropriately, with the legislature. The legislature does not need the Board of Regents’ approval to fully fund all the projects enumerated in this proposal. I implore the legislature to confine their political battles to the Capitol Square and leave the business of running our university to our exceptional chancellors and the devoted employees that we trust.”

“What’s it going to be next year?” Regent Dana Wachs asked. “What will happen in the next budget? What’s the political game going to be at that point?”

Apparently validating that fear, Assembly Speaking Robin Vos posted on X after the vote, “Republicans know this is just the first step in what will be our continuing efforts to eliminate these cancerous DEI practices on UW campuses.”

Regent Jennifer Staton spoke forcefully against Vos, who blocked the employee pay raises despite the fact that they were approved by the legislature and governor, and who has complained about DEI efforts.

“What rock has he been living under?” she asked. But, she said, after speaking with chancellors of several UW schools, it’s clear the campuses need the funding Vos has been withholding.

“We have heard from all the Chancellors and they have asked for our help,” Staton said. “Right now I will place their needs above my own. They are the leaders of their campuses, and we have entrusted them with this leadership.”

“The very premise of this deal is a nonstarter,” said Regent Angela Adams. “DEI is not something we should be exchanging for dollars.”

Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman, along with several campus chancellors and several Regents who voted yes, reiterated the system’s commitment to DEI and serving underserved populations.

“We want to advance equity, diversity and inclusion. That has already been stated, that has already been determined, and we are moving forward with that in our strategic plan,” Rothman said. “This allows us to reimagine how we do equity, diversity and inclusion, I would argue, with better results, with better outcomes.”

Following the vote, Regent Edmund Manydeeds pledged to hold Rothman and campuses accountable for that promise.

“We have heard now pledges from the system, the campus representatives and the Board of Regents, that they are all committed to improving and reimagining the spirit of diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “It is my intent to make sure that that happens, that the intent and spirit of DEI will not be abandoned.”

The deal, which was apparently negotiated over six months between Vos, Rothman and UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, was first made public Friday, just 24 hours before the Regents’ first met to discuss it. Campus community advocates complained that there had been no input from faculty, staff or students.

After the vote to reject the proposal Saturday, the Board of Regents met in closed session Tuesday and posted notice later that day that it would reconsider and vote again.

The 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.