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Universities of Wisconsin regents to vote again on GOP deal to cut diversity spots for cash

Wisconsin Diversity Funding
Posted at 8:19 AM, Dec 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-13 09:19:21-05

MADISON (AP) — Universities of Wisconsin regents have decided to vote again on a deal with Republican lawmakers that calls for reducing diversity positions in exchange for funding to cover employee raises and campus construction projects, including a new engineering building at UW-Madison.

The regents rejected the deal on a 9-8 vote Saturday. They met in a closed video conference Tuesday morning, however. Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman declined to reveal what was discussed to reporters. Hours later, the regents posted notice that they'd scheduled an open meeting for late Wednesday afternoon to vote again on the proposal.

The agenda indicates that Regent Amy Blumenfeld Bogost, who voted against the deal on Saturday, is now requesting adoption. She did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press on Tuesday evening. The voicemail at her Madison law office was full.

Republican Chris Kapenga, president of the state Senate, tweeted on Monday that the Senate may not confirm regents who voted against the deal. Regents Blumenfeld Bogost, John Miller and Dana Wachs all voted against the plan; none of them have been confirmed yet. Wisconsin law allows gubernatorial appointees such as UW regents to serve until and if the Senate votes to reject confirmation.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has blocked a 6% raise for the university system's employees in an effort to force the regents to reduce the number of positions that work on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Vos insists such efforts only create division. The fight reflects a broader cultural battle over college diversity initiatives playing out across the nation.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the raise in the state budget passed this summer, but Vos has blocked a GOP-controlled legislative employment committee from releasing the money. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court arguing that lawmakers have overstepped their constitutional authority by blocking the raises.

Last week, Rothman unveiled a deal he brokered with Vos that calls for releasing the money for the raises as well as funding various construction projects on campuses, including $200 million for a new UW-Madison engineering building, a top priority for officials at the flagship campus.

To obtain the money, the universities would have had to freeze hiring for diversity positions through the end of 2026, shift at least 43 current diversity positions to focus on “student success” and eliminate statements supporting diversity on student applications. UW-Madison would have to drop its affirmative action faculty hiring program and create a position focused on conservative thought.

Democratic legislators have urged regents to reject the deal, saying the proposal sells out students and faculty.

Evers issued a statement saying he supported the regents' decision to reject the deal on Saturday. He called on Republicans to simply release funding for the raises as negotiated in the state budget and admonished them for resorting to threats “when they don't get their way.”

“Rash political decisions, rhetoric, and threats help no one,” the governor said. “Conversations regarding critical, necessary investments in the UW System should continue in the weeks ahead, and it would be my expectation that all parties be interested, engaged, and meaningful participants in that process.”

Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison's student government group, blasted the regents' decision to vote again in a scathing news release.

“This deal tarnishes the student experience," the group said. “It disparages the prospect of belonging at our University for those of us who come from historically underrepresented communities ... Our statement is clear: NO DEAL.”