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Friday, May 24, 2024
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Republican lawmakers approve audit of DEI programming in state government

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted along party lines to approve an audit of all diversity, equity and inclusion programming in Wisconsin state agencies, including the UW System.

The Republican-controlled Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted 6-4 Tuesday to approve an audit of all diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming in state government. 

The audit comes months after the University of Wisconsin System agreed to restructure some DEI positions on its campuses in exchange for legislative approval of employee pay raises and building projects such as funding for UW-Madison’s new engineering building.  

The audit will include public institutions, like the UW System, along with state agencies and departments. 

“Providing opportunities for all is important to the success of state government institutions, but to create more unaccountable bureaucracy in the name of DEI is a deal breaker,” said Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Racine, in a statement following Tuesday’s hearing. “My hope is that the audit shows us what’s happening in the DEI realm and at what cost to our taxpayers.”

The Legislative Audit Committee co-chair Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay, called DEI a “neo-Marxian philosophy meant to pit one socially-constructed class against another” during Tuesday’s hearing on the audit proposal.  

“I look forward to this audit to uncover the money spent and tactics used to achieve state-sponsored discrimination,” Wimberger said during the hearing.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, previously called for a “long-term, in-depth review of every part of DEI in state government” after Wisconsin lawmakers approved pay raises for UW System employees in December 2023.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said he saw the audit as “nothing more than an attempt to drag up a boogeyman” ahead of the 2024 election.

On the other end of the aisle, Democratic members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee criticized Vos for holding “the Universities of Wisconsin hostage to try to end their DEI programs” in a statement released Tuesday.

“The audit proposal the chairs brought before us today is only political window dressing for when Republicans come back and call for an end to these programs and conveniently ignore the strength that a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce brings to our state,” the statement said. 

State Auditor Joe Chrisman told the committee it will be a “large audit” that would likely extend into 2025.

Earlier this year, UW-Madison began looking for ways to protect itself against a nationwide anti-DEI movement. UW-Madison Chief Diversity Officer LaVar Charleston recommended the university take actions to “protect us, to adapt or to fight against anti [DEI] legislation” at an Academic Staff Assembly meeting Feb. 12. 

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Anna Kleiber

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

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