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Friday, May 24, 2024
Wisconsin Board of Regents

Courtesy of Althea Dotzour / UW–Madison

UW System passes deal freezing DEI positions in exchange for buildings, pay raise approval

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents passed a resolution to restructure DEI positions in exchange for funding for UW System employee pay raises and building projects in an 11-6 vote.

In an 11-6 vote Wednesday, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents narrowly passed a resolution to restructure diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions in exchange for pay raises and building projects. The resolution passed four days after it was initially rejected in a 9-8 vote Saturday. 

Regent President Karen Walsh, Regent Jennifer Staton and Regent Vice President Amy Blumenfeld Bogost voted in favor of the resolution Wednesday after initially voting no.

All nine regents who first voted to reject the resolution were appointed by Gov. Tony Evers.

“Last Saturday, this board faced one of its toughest votes in centuries,” Walsh said. Yet she said the board, despite being composed of political appointees, is not “deeply divided” along party lines. 

Regent ex officio and Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jill Underly wasn’t present during the meeting and asked the Board of Regents to delay the vote. She is currently abroad with her elderly mother, according to a statement.

The reversals come after Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, told CBS58 Tuesday that unconfirmed, Evers-appointed regents could lose their jobs “as soon as January.”

Amy Bogost, John Miller, Ashok Rai and Dana Wachs are the four Evers appointees who have not been confirmed by the Senate. Rai was the only regent to approve the deal on its first vote.

Bogost, who voted no Saturday, decided to support the resolution to help underrepresented students succeed and increase university employee compensation.

“After further discussions with stakeholders, many stakeholders from every campus, I have decided to support this resolution. We simply can't ignore the immense challenges facing our universities,” Bogost said.

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In the days leading up to Wednesday's vote, Wisconsin Democrats accused Republicans of pressuring regents to vote for the deal.

“Threats, intimidation, special favors, and yes, breaking the law—folks, this your WI Republican Party,” tweeted Rep. Lee Snodgrass, D-Appleton.

UW System President Jay Rothman said there was a strategic plan last December to close the retention gap and increase enrollment for underrepresented students. 

“I expect that this board would hold me and ultimately my team responsible for achieving as we have done since the plan was adopted. We have continually updated the board on various elements of the strategic plan, and we will continue to do that,” Rothman said.

Regent Jennifer Staton addressed Assembly Speaker Robin Vos directly in her comment, disputing his claims that DEI is “divisive” and “indoctrination.”

“The only indoctrination I've ever received is in the United States Army,” Staton said. 

Under the deal, the UW System will freeze hiring for DEI positions for three years and restructure over 40 of the system’s 130 DEI positions into general student success positions. The school will also guarantee admission for students ranked in the top 5% of their class and create an endowed chair to focus on conservative political thought.

In return, the UW System will receive $800 million for pay raises to over 30,000 employees, a new engineering hall for UW-Madison and various systemwide building projects. 

Additionally, UW will get $32 million in funding for workforce development efforts and $16 million for the state’s tuition reciprocity agreement with Minnesota.

Many said they felt the deal demonstrated a lack of transparency from UW System leaders as negotiations largely took place behind closed doors.  

The nonpartisan Legislative Council, in a memo requested by Rep. Dora Drake, D-Milwaukee, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, suggested the deal could violate Wisconsin shared governance open meeting laws. 

In an Associated Students of Madison statement on Tuesday, the student government said the deal “tarnishes” UW System campus student experiences and harms belonging for those in marginalized groups.

After the formal announcement of a deal on Friday, students and lawmakers criticized closed-door negotiations they said led to the deal, including many who wondered if any “diverse groups of people” were actually at the negotiating table. 

The negotiation process has occurred in a largely private process since Vos first suggested UW System schools must eliminate DEI offices to receive public funding.

Much of any eventual legislation on the deal would have to go through Evers’ office prior to enactment. 

In a meeting with the press after the resolution passed, Rothman said the deal represented a compromise, calling it the end to an “arduous and challenging conflict.”

“It’s not a secret we’re a polarized state,” Rothman said. “We have divided government. If we want to move forward, if we want to make progress, we need to make compromises.”

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Anna Kleiber

Anna Kleiber is the state news editor for The Daily Cardinal. Follow her on Twitter at @annakleiber03.

Gavin Escott

Gavin Escott is the campus news editor for the Daily Cardinal. He has covered protests, breaking news and written in-depth on Wisconsin politics and higher education. He is the former producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.

Ava Menkes

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.

Liam Beran

Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.

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