Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R- Rochester) hopes to phase out diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices at University of Wisconsin System campuses and hinted at potential budget cuts if the UW System does not comply with his request, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday.
"The university has gone from being an institute of higher education to an institute of indoctrination," Vos told the Journal Sentinel. “If they want to increase their funding, they have to show they can prioritize things to grow the economy, not grow the racial divide.”
The Republican leader's suggestion comes as UW-Madison — Wisconsin’s flagship public university — continues to face widespread scrutiny for its response to a recent video of a white UW-Madison student saying racial slurs and violent remarks directed toward Black people.
At least 200 students marched across campus Wednesday to deliver a list of nine DEI-related demands to UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin.
One of the demands calls for the student making racist comments in the video to be expelled. However, the university cannot legally take “punitive action” against private speech, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion LaVar Charleston said in a statement to students Tuesday.
Vos was unavailable to provide a statement regarding the video in relation to DEI programs on campuses.
Vos, Rothman discuss reallocating DEI funding
Republicans have attacked the university for its diversity and inclusion programs during legislative proceedings in past legislative sessions.
DEI programs have been installed on college campuses throughout Wisconsin to make historically marginalized communities feel safe and accepted, according to UW-Madison’s DEI website. The programs can further expand enrollment identity beyond traditional student demographics.
UW System President Jay Rothamn told the Journal Sentinel on Tuesday that DEI offices are necessary to improve retention and graduation rates and help students adapt to a diverse workforce.
“To be relevant today, we must meet these expectations,” Rothman said.
The UW System spends about $13.6 million annually on 185 DEI administrators, with most spending fixed at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, according to WisPolitics records.
Vos previously met with Rothman to discuss where DEI funding could be re-allocated towards, according to the Journal Sentinel. Some of his department requests included nursing and engineering.
Rothman did not respond to repeated requests for comment Wednesday.
Vos also suggested reinstating the UW System’s admissions policy requiring ACT or SAT test score submissions.
In two weeks, the GOP-controlled Legislature will decide the state budget — including how much funding will go towards universities over the next two years.
Gov. Tony Evers can only use his line-item veto against DEI program cuts, but not to reduce the overall cut of the university, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.