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University of Wisconsin regents reverse course, will cut DEI in exchange for $800 million

State Rep. Dora Drake called deal ‘systematically racist’

The University of Wisconsin system will get $800 million for infrastructure improvements and pay raises in exchange for voting to cut large chunks of DEI programming, reversing a decision its Board of Regents made just a few days before.

The deal also requires UW system campuses to refrain from adding new DEI positions through December 2026. Administrators must also reassign at least one third of their current DEI-focused employees to roles dedicated to academic and student success.

Mandatory DEI statements in admissions and hiring are also to be abolished under the deal, and efforts to fund a conservative professorship at UW-Madison must be launched, according to the terms.

In exchange, the legislature will fund pay raises as well as building construction and improvement projects at campuses across the system. System leaders “will have the opportunity to give pay raises to its 34,000 employees and build a new $347 million engineering building in Madison,” NPR’s Wisconsin Public Radio reported Dec. 13. 

“We finally have turned the corner and gotten real reforms enacted,” GOP Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly Robin Vos (pictured) stated on X on Dec. 13 after the deal was inked. “Republicans know this is just the first step in what will be our continuing efforts to eliminate these cancerous DEI practices on UW campuses.”

For much of 2023, Vos has led the legislative efforts to beat back DEI on college campuses in the Badger State.

Reached for comment on the compromise by The College Fix, UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas referred to a Dec. 13 statement from UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin.

“Moving forward includes ensuring our hard-working employees receive their approved pay increases, especially critical in these inflationary times; funding the engineering building to allow us to grow and meet the state’s demonstrated workforce needs; and making much-needed infrastructure investments to address facility issues that have been deferred for far too long,” Mnookin stated.

“At the same time, we can and must remain steadfast in our commitment to serving students of all backgrounds, including those underserved by higher education, and those who hold a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives,” she stated.

The compromise was reached after the University of Wisconsin system Board of Regents voted 11-6 to approve the deal to cut back DEI in exchange for more funding — reversing a 9-8 vote rejecting the same proposal from the prior weekend, Forbes reported.

As part of the agreement, campuses in the system will also be required to fully comply with the recent Supreme Court decisions abolishing affirmative action in higher education.

During a press conference just before the vote, state Rep. Dora Drake of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus, a Democrat, called the proposed deal “systematically racist,” NPR reported.

“It is discriminatory toward students, faculty and staff of color, because their experiences should never have a price tag and should never be bought out on what inclusion looks like on our campuses,” she said. 

On Dec. 9, the Board of Regents had voted against approving the same deal, the Wisconsin State Journal reported at the time. Before the new vote, system President Jay Rothman urged the board to approve it, according to The Journal.

“Compromises needed to be made for us to reach an agreement, but in my experience, that is what is necessary and what it takes to reach a deal,” Rothman said. “I wanted to thank the Regents for their input and feedback and guidance as we have worked through this process during multiple sessions and numerous other conversations that I had with a number of you.”

The UW Board of Regents “is responsible for establishing policies and rules for governing the [University] System…and establishing the regulatory framework within which the individual units are allowed to operate with as great a degree of autonomy as possible,” according to its website.

On Dec. 13, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ office released a statement describing the decision as a “vast overreach” by “a group of Republicans who’ve grown exceedingly comfortable overextending, manipulating, and abusing their power to control, subvert, and obstruct basic functions of government.”

In early July, Gov. Evers vetoed a Republican attempt to eliminate 188 UW system DEI jobs, The Cap Times reported.

However, the budget approved by the GOP-led legislature over the summer included “a separate provision to pull out $32 million from the UW System…roughly the amount the UW System spends on DEI efforts, and require it be spent on efforts to bolster the state’s workforce,” according to The Times.

MORE: Amid massive budget cuts, WVU pays DEI chief $235,000 — 298% higher than average co-worker

IMAGE: Wisconsin State Representative Robin Vos/Facebook

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