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Friday, April 19, 2024

UW-Madison moves to protect itself from future anti-DEI legislation

UW-Madison Chief Diversity Officer LaVar Charleston announced methods to push against a nationwide anti-DEI movement at a Feb. 12 Academic Staff Assembly meeting.

Months after a controversial deal which exchanged funds for capped diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is looking for ways to protect itself and fight against a nationwide anti-DEI movement.

Meeting minutes show UW-Madison Chief Diversity Officer LaVar Charleston acknowledged a nationwide anti-DEI movement and cited ways for UW-Madison to insulate itself or fight against anti-DEI legislation at a Feb. 12 Academic Staff Assembly meeting.

Charleston recommended playing defense by lobbying with institutional partners for support, mobilizing stakeholders to secure nonrestricted funding and developing specific plans to protect UW-Madison — actions to “protect us, to adapt or to fight against anti-[equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging] legislation.”

UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said in an email to The Daily Cardinal that Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and UW-Madison value diversity as a way to strengthen learning environments and believe “everyone should feel a sense of belonging” at the university.

“She has also said that recent legislation has provided us an opportunity to take a fresh look at our efforts to address student belonging,” Lucas said. “Dr. Charleston highlighted some of these opportunities, while providing information about the higher education landscape across the country.”

The new efforts address future risks of DEI-related legislative interference in state funding. Republican lawmaker objections to diversity programs held up UW System employee pay raises and a long-awaited engineering hall replacement at UW-Madison earlier this year. 

Mnookin called future demands from the Republican-controlled Legislature a concern “without or without the [DEI] agreement” during a December roundtable with student media. 

Some state Republicans doubled down on threats against diversity programs after the UW Board of Regents voted to accept the GOP-led deal. 

Shortly after the deal’s passage, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called the move a “first step” in Republican efforts to eliminate “cancerous DEI practices” at UW System campuses. Vos said he wanted a full audit of diversity programs in state agencies by 2025.

After the Regents’ first vote, Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said unconfirmed Evers-appointed Regents who voted against the deal could lose their jobs “as soon as January.” Two months later, Republicans in the state Senate voted to fire two Regents who voted “no” on the deal, while confirming one — Regent Amy Bogost — who flipped her vote. 

The move from UW-Madison comes as state legislatures in Texas, Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma and Utah have signed bills to ban or cut DEI programs at universities and in state government amid a national debate on their merits. 

Charleston also said at the meeting that leadership has focused on efforts to support students given the current campus climate, according to meeting minutes. Charleston specifically mentioned the war in Israel and Gaza, which has led to numerous campus and city protests.

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Preliminary results from an ad hoc work group looking at the Black experience on campus will be released soon, with final results coming by the end of the spring semester, according to meeting minutes. Mnookin formed the committee shortly after multi-day student protests against the university’s response to a viral video of a white UW-Madison student spouting racist and violent remarks toward Black people that circulated last spring. 

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Mary Bosch

Mary Bosch is the Photo Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year Journalism student. She has also written campus, state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @Mary_Bosch6

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