WASHINGTON COUNTY — The salaries of more than 34,000 University of Wisconsin system employees are in limbo because of a few on-campus programs.
It's a decision that Governor Evers previously signed off on, but was then blocked by Republicans, and now, as of Saturday, the system's highest board is also indecisive.
It's a decision many are calling unprecedented and could have lasting impacts across the UW System.
On Friday, UW System President Jay Rothman said he came to an agreement with state Republicans. The deal included a hiring freeze for all diversity positions through the end of 2026 and a shift of 43 current diversity positions.
In return, all UW System employees would get a raise during the next two years and millions of dollars would be funneled into the system for infrastructure improvements.
That deal was squashed Saturday after an emergency meeting by the UW Board of Regents.
"That is unprecedented. That has not been done in our state before," Matt Householder, the student government president at UW Fond Du Lac and the vice chair of the UW System Student Government, said.
"Why there's this whole doubt for this funding because of DEI programs under our campuses?" Householder asked.
It's a question many are asking and one we can't seem to get an answer to either.
"It does nothing but help our current economy in Wisconsin, it does nothing but retain our teachers in the state, and promote our state for higher learning," Householder said.
Householder said the last few months have been uneasy for students. He said many minority students feel unsupported by staff and don't know where to turn.
He too said he hopes a deal is made soon as this impacts thousands.
"I was a veteran. I did serve in the Iraq War during 2003 and 2004 with the Wisconsin National Guard. Because that, I have withheld going back to school until I was 44-years-old, so I'm a returning student," Householder explained. "Programs like those DEI programs help support individuals like us when we go back there," he said.
Monday, we made several attempts to talk to UW System President Jay Rothman. We also tried calling and emailing members of the Board of Regents.
No one got back to us.
"I think right now people are just trying to digest what has happened," Householder suggested.
We received remarks from Hector Colon's office that read in part:
"I don’t think our current EDI efforts have inspired us to do this. Is there a better way? I think our decision today may be divided which would be uncharacteristic for this board. I hope my remarks and others today will unite us even more than we have been in the past.”
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu's office also sent a statement that reads in part:
“The resolution rejected by the board of regents on Saturday is the legislature’s last and best offer. Enumerating a new engineering building at UW-Madison and providing hardworking UW employees with inflationary wage increases is good for the university system and good for the state. The board of regents should reconsider their vote; stop prioritizing woke liberal ideology over student achievement, and make the right decision on behalf of the university system and the state."
It's a deal that's left in the unknown at the moment. A special meeting of the Board of Regents has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday.