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UW Board of Regents approves deal with legislators to fund pay raises, capital projects

The 11-6 vote by the Board of Regents in favor of the deal is a reversal of a decision four days prior to reject it.

UW Board of Regents approves deal with legislators to fund pay raises, capital projects

Source: Universities of Wisconsin

December 13, 2023 10:02 PM CDT
By: Jimmie Kaska

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MADISON, Wis. (WMDX) – The Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted to approve a deal with Republican legislators Wednesday, just days after initially rejecting the proposal.

The approved deal will release funding for pay raises for UW employees that was approved in the biennial budget signed into law earlier this year and fund capital projects at multiple campuses, such as a new engineering building for UW-Madison.

In return, the Universities of Wisconsin would reassign a third of employees currently working in diversity, equity and inclusion positions, freeze the number of DEI positions through 2026, and eliminate a program that promotes diversity in its faculty. Additionally, UW will be required to create a position for conservative political thought, classical economic theory or classical liberalism. The position would be funded through endowments.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers decried the outcome of the vote by the Board of Regents, which was 11-6 in favor of the deal.

“This vote today represents 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,” Evers said in a statement. “This exercise has been about one thing—the relentless political tantrums, ultimatums, and threats of retribution by legislative Republicans, most especially Speaker Robin Vos, his negotiation-by-bullying tactics, and general disdain for public education at every level.”

Evers said that he disagreed with the vote by the regents, who had rejected the same deal on Saturday in a 9 to 8 vote.

“I am disappointed and frustrated with this result, this proposal, and the process that led up to this point,” Evers said. “Never in modern American history has it been more important for higher education institutions, including the UW System Board of Regents, to have the opportunity to make the very best decisions for students, faculty, staff, and campuses without the fear of political intimidation, threats, or retribution.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Chris Kapenga, who earlier this week said about regents who had voted against the deal that it was “good to know before their upcoming Senate confirmation votes,” posted on social media Wednesday that DEI is “toxic, wasteful, racist ideology trying to root itself in our taxpayer-funded UW System.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wrote on social media after the vote that he was “glad” that the regents voted to approve the deal despite pressure from Evers to reject it.

“We finally have turned the corner and gotten real reforms enacted,” Vos said. “Republicans know this is just the first step in what will be our continuing efforts to eliminate these cancerous DEI practices on UW campuses.”

Republican State Sen. Howard Marklein, who is co-chair of the state legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, said that UW staff deserved the raises that were released as part of the deal. He also touted the funding for capital projects on multiple campuses included in the negotiations.

“Our universities must be places where students are taught how to think – not what to think,” Marklein said in a statement. “Adjusting the DEI programming will go a long way toward respecting all speech and all thought on our campuses, making it a safe, fair place for all students to express themselves and learn.”

Democratic Assembly Rep. Shelia Stubbs, who represents the 77th District, which includes UW-Madison, said in a statement before the vote Wednesday that she was “deeply distraught” about the terms of the deal.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion will never be values I am willing to compromise, and I would hope that the rest of the state of Wisconsin, a state that consistently ranks highest in racial disparities in the nation across every aspect of a person’s life, would agree with me,” Stubbs said.

Democratic State Sen. LaToya Johnson was critical of Wisconsin Republican leadership in the UW funding deal, writing in a statement that “diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to the health, well-being, and success of our entire state as well as recruiting young families and creating a stronger workforce.”

State Superintendent Jill Underly, who is on the Board of Regents, called for rescheduling the vote before it took place Wednesday, writing in a statement that “it is clear the Regents are divided, and further work is necessary.” Underly wrote that she was out of the country on vacation this week, and did not place a vote in either Saturday’s rejection of the deal or Wednesday’s approval.