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Wisc. universities keep DEI positions despite GOP gutting budget by $32 million


University of Wisconsin campus leaders have not cut diversity, equity and inclusion positions from their campuses despite losing $32 million in funding from the GOP-led state legislature earlier this summer in an effort to see such programs axed.

However, system leaders are in the process of requesting a partial reimbursement to the tune of $15 million from the Wisconsin State Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee to fund non-DEI, workforce development-related positions, which state lawmakers left open as an option to recoup some of the cuts.

“As requested by the legislature, we will present a compelling funding proposal to invest in high-demand programs that benefit our workforce so that Wisconsin can compete in the war for talent and move the state forward,” Mark Pitsch, UW System’s director of media relations, said via email to The College Fix.

In early July, Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the Republican attempt to eliminate 188 UW System DEI jobs, but the $32 million in budget cuts remained in the budget, the Cap Times reported.

“The budget includes a separate provision to pull out $32 million from the UW System budget, roughly the amount the UW System spends on DEI efforts, and require it be spent on efforts to bolster the state’s workforce,” the Times reported.

According to Sean Nelson, the system’s vice president of finance and administration, it remains unclear if the Wisconsin legislature will support UW’s request focused on supporting engineering, data, science, and nursing programs, the Associated Press reported Aug. 22.

At least one leading Republican opposes increasing funding until DEI programs are defunded.

“We are not giving UW that money unless they work with us to eliminate all this racial preferences and all the things that are rampant on college campuses,” Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said to WISN-AM.

Speaker Vos has called universities with DEI programs “institutions of indoctrination” and claims “DEI is the new religion to the left.”

Vos’s office did not respond to requests from The College Fix seeking comment on whether or not he will support the forthcoming request by UW System.

Governor Evers has long been at odds with the Republican-held legislature.

In July, he used his line-item veto power, allowing him to veto parts of legislation while signing the overall bill, to approve an annual increase in public school funding of $325 per student until 2425. The legislature initially passed this increase for the 2024-25 school year.

“Wisconsin allows governors to alter certain legislation by replacing words and letters wherever they see fit, and Gov. Tony Evers struck a hyphen and ’20’ to change the end date for a $325 per-student spending increase from 2025 to 2425,” the Associated Press reported. “With those seemingly simple changes, Evers enacted four centuries of funding increases that cannot be undone unless a court strikes it down or a future Legislature and governor intervene.”

In May, UW System President Jay Rothman banned mandatory diversity statements in hiring practices amid free speech concerns, the Cap Times reported.

However, in an interview with PBS Wisconsin, Rothman reiterated his support for DEI, saying, “I came from the private sector. In the firm that I was in, we focused on that because it was good business, it was important, and my support for DEI has not wavered.”

Rothman seemed somewhat skeptical of the system’s chances at regaining this funding, saying, “I don’t think we can plan for that because we have to operate within the means that we have.”

The UW System Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion website states the department aims to “improve the human condition for all, especially those of diverse racial and ethnic identities, nationalities, social and economic status, sexual orientations, gender identity/expressions, ages, physical and mental abilities, religious beliefs or political ideologies.”

This fight is the latest in a string of efforts by Republicans nationwide to roll back DEI programs. There are 22 states in which there are GOP-led efforts to curtail DEI, a Chronicle of Higher Education tracker shows.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to note the increase in student funding goes until 2425, not 2025.

MORE: Idaho bans DEI job statements in higher ed, think tank says DEI offices should go next

IMAGE: EQ Roy / Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Garrett Marchand is a pre-law student at the University of Alabama majoring in political science and economics with a minor in the Blount Scholars Program. Garrett is a member of Young Americans for Freedom. He is a contributor for Alabama's student paper, The Crimson White.