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UW and Vos agree on DEI to release university staff salary increases

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In an effort to reduce university diversity, equality, and inclusion programs, the Universities of Wisconsin and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have come to an agreement about the months-long blockage of wage increases for approximately 34,000 employees.

As part of the agreement, Republican lawmakers will release roughly $800 million for cost-of-living increases for staff members and authorize construction projects, including an engineering building at UW-Madison that was previously rejected by Republicans.

The deal would also mandate that the UW restructure certain current diversity-focused posts and freeze the number of DEI positions through 2026. In total, that would equate to 43 fewer employees working on DEI than there are now.

The Target of Opportunity Program, which sought to increase the diversity of professors and staff hired by UW-Madison, will come to an end. According to the agreement, the college will replace the TOP program with “an alternative program” that will recruit faculty members irrespective of their gender identity or race.

Furthermore, the UW will back a Republican plan mandating that institutions automatically admit the top students from all of the state’s high schools. That entails admitting the top 5% of high school applicants to UW-Madison. The top 10% of applicants will have to be admitted to all other campuses.

A post for an administrative chair with a concentration on “conservative political thought, classical economic theory, or classical liberalism” will also be created at UW-Madison with the help of private finance, contingent upon the interests of the potential donor.

UW leaders and GOP lawmakers are happy with the arrangement.

Rep. Dave Murphy of Greenville and Rep. Michael Vos of Rochester both expressed their satisfaction with the agreement in a joint statement, citing a “growing emphasis on concepts that amplify ideas of division, exclusion, and indoctrination on our campuses.”

“Our caucus objective has always been aimed at dismantling the bureaucracy and division related to DEI and reprioritizing our universities towards an emphasis on what matters — student success and achievement,” Vos stated. “I’m proud that Wisconsin is the first state with divided government to make real progress on reducing these negative influences across our public higher education institutions.”

Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman and UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin commended the agreement as a means to “reimagine” DEI programs during a press conference on Friday.

Mnookin acknowledged the worry and strain it has caused reporters, noting that blocking UW-Madison’s and campus employee pay increases has been a challenging process.

“We talk a lot about bridging divides and the importance of doing that,” Mnookin stated. I believe that this compromise achieves the desired outcome. To be clear, it’s also a compromise that enables us to uphold our essential principles, which include a dedication to excellence, diversity, inclusivity, and belonging.”

According to Rothman, the Universities of Wisconsin and Vos came to an understanding. He stated that on Saturday, the Board of Regents is anticipated to formally accept the arrangement.

Rothman, who assumed leadership of the state’s universities last year, has pushed for increased state funding for public higher education. He restated on Friday that Wisconsin receives 42nd place among the 50 states in terms of public university financing.

“This agreement can hopefully reset our relationship with the Legislature so that we can work together to focus on what is best for the state of Wisconsin,” Rothman stated.

Vos’s “hold our ground” approach resulted in the UW system making concessions.

Raises of six percent for state employees and UW staff were included in the state budget that was approved and signed by Governor Tony Evers in late June. However, Vos declared in September that he would obstruct the UW rises in an effort to put pressure on administrators to axe DEI employees and activities. The speaker followed through on October 17, when Vos’s Joint Committee on Employee Relations approved wage hikes for some state employees but rejected the increases at the University of Washington.

Governor Evers responded by filing a lawsuit, requesting that the newly formed liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court rule that Vos and other Republican lawmakers were “unconstitutionally and unlawfully obstructing basic government functions” by preventing the pay increases that both Republicans and Democrats had previously approved. The settlement reached between Vos and the UW may or may not have an impact on the litigation, as the court has not yet determined whether to take it up.

Vos has been extremely critical of the DEI staff and programs on campus. At the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s state convention in June, he declared that DEI programming constituted “overt racism.”

“If we hold our ground, and we stand strong enough, we’re going to be the pebble in the pond that ripples all across the country and hopefully begins to turn this crap around,” Vos stated to the audience. We thus cannot surrender. I believe that this is the most significant problem that our country, people, and all of humanity are currently dealing with.”

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said to Wisconsin Eye this week that he did not support the pay rise blockade, despite the fact that Vos remained unwavering in his approach to obtaining concessions from state universities under the DEI. Although he acknowledged that most UW staff lack authority over DEI policy, he said he understood what Vos was attempting to achieve. Later, LeMahieu informed reporters that the speaker and the UW were getting close to reaching a deal.

Some call the agreement “a cynical political move”

The Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus said in a joint statement on Thursday that it is “appalled and ashamed” that the state is taking DEI out of schools.

“We ask the question, who was at the table making negotiations on behalf of our black and brown students on campus?” said the statement. “Who made the decision to place a value on the inclusion of our students and personnel of color on our campuses by attaching a price tag? Did we even take into account the interests of our students?

The group called it a “true irony” because as part of the agreement, a donor-funded job devoted to conservative thought had been established at UW-Madison.

“This is a text-book example of how political agendas are pushed in our higher education system to silence others,” the statement continued. “The result of these provisions would create a hostile environment for non-White students and faculty on our campuses.”

In a joint statement issued on Thursday, the Assembly Democrats denounced the GOP’s attacks on college equality, diversity, and inclusion as “attempts to divide us and foment culture wars at the expense of the wellbeing of all of our students.”

“We ask university leaders and our GOP colleagues in the Capitol to join us in opposing Speaker Vos’ blatant attack on our universities and our students, especially students of color and LGBTQ+ students,” added the statement. “Rather than using our students and university system as political pawns, we must work to build a Wisconsin where everyone has the opportunity to thrive — that is our job.”

AFT-Wisconsin, the teachers union, described the proposed agreement as “a cynical political move all the way around” in a statement they sent the same day.

Kim Kohlhaas, the newly elected President of AFT-Wisconsin, stated, “Real leadership means standing up for our values and fighting for the resources our public university system needs.” “If the UW system’s administrative leaders won’t lead that fight, the members of our higher education locals across the state will because our students, and the Wisconsin Idea, are too important not to.”

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