Wisconsin Legislature Slashes DEI Positions in Public Universities
The GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature forced the state university system to agree on Wednesday to cuts in its DEI bureaucracy, in exchange for nearly $1 billion in funds. The Universities of Wisconsin (UW) Board of Regents, backed by Governor Tony Evers (D), initially rejected a negotiated compromise but then approved it days later. “Anything that decreases DEI on campus is a good thing,” Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling told The Washington Stand. “If that’s the kind of agreement we’ve got, which I believe it is, then this deal is a win for the people of Wisconsin, and certainly for the students.”
“Republican trifectas in several states [such as Florida and Oklahoma] have succeeded at reining in DEI. [Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos [R] is the first to do it with divided government,” wrote the editors of National Review.
Vos insisted on slashing DEI funding after he insisted the trendy acronym really stands for “division, exclusion, and indoctrination.” Campus DEI offices have been linked to the sudden outbreak of anti-Semitic acts on college campuses in the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7 terror attack.
Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly announced plans to cut DEI funding in May, and the budget they passed in June cut $32 million from the university system, equal to that of its DEI programs.
Governor Evers sought to block the legislature’s plan to gut DEI bureaucracies. At first, he threatened to veto the entire budget over the DEI cuts. Eventually, he signed the budget, but he used a line-item veto to protect 188 university DEI positions. His line-item veto could not restore the $32 million funding cut.
However, the legislature had not spent all its leverage yet. The budget included pay raises for all state employees, which still had to be approved by a legislative committee, the Employee Relations Board, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. And members of that board, including Vos, “took up raises for all state employees except university employees.” The legislature also omitted funding for a new engineering building for the UW-Madison campus — a project worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The legislature began negotiating with the UW System President Jay Rothman to approve the pay raises and infrastructure funding in exchange for some DEI cuts.
Rothman and Vos eventually negotiated a compromise agreement for the UW Board of Regents to consider at a December 9 meeting. According to the agreement, the “legislature would approve the pay raises and release the funding for building projects, including for a new engineering building that Republicans had initially rejected, in exchange for a series of reforms,” described the NR editors.
In exchange, the UW system would freeze DEI hiring, reassign 43 current DEI officials for other roles, abolish an affirmative action faculty program, and prohibit diversity statements on student applications. UW would also endow a new chair for studying conservative political thought, implement a new module on free expression, and adopt a race-blind, merit-based admissions program to automatically admit the top-performing students.
While Appling was not privy to the details of the negotiations, she remarked, “This is a big ticket item. I have to believe UW made enough concessions to make Robin Vos comfortable.”
Indeed, the deal’s minimal DEI concessions were enough to spook Evers’s handpicked members of the Board of Regents, who narrowly (9-8) voted down the deal on December 9.
But, after the Board of Regents voted down the negotiated compromise, Vos indicated he wouldn’t budge. “This deal was negotiated in good faith. We are not changing one thing in this deal. … If they want to walk away, they can walk away,” he told a local radio station.
Vos added that he would “do everything in my power to make sure we either enforce this deal or we wait until the next budget to talk about it again. We are not going to give the raises, we are not going to approve these new building programs, we are not going to approve the new money for the university unless they at least pass this deal.”
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) concurred, warning the Regents the deal represented “the legislature’s last and best offer.”
The Board of Regents voted (11-6) to approve the deal on December 13, four days after they had voted to reject it.
“The humor in this is just not lost on me,” remarked Appling. The regents rejected nearly a billion dollars in public funding rather than surrender an inch of ground on left-wing ideology. After all, “it wasn’t their raises that were being held up,” said Appling. The UW system employs a staff of 39,000, who have been unionized since the 1960s. Those labor unions exist in part to lobby state officials who may threaten employees’ pay.
“When push came to shove,” commentated the NR editors, “it wasn’t worth rejecting pay raises for all employees and putting building projects on hold for the sake of a handful of progressive ideologues working in the DEI bureaucracy. The implicit admission: DEI isn’t necessary to the educational mission of the university system.”
While the Assembly Republicans have concentrated on funding negotiations, their colleagues in the Wisconsin Senate are eyeing upcoming battles over Evers’s left-wing appointees to the Board of Regents, four of which have not yet been approved by the Senate. “It’s good to know before their upcoming Senate confirmation votes that several Regents chose their sacred ideology over getting our students ready for their careers,” said Senate President Chris Kapenga (R).
“The UW is a bastion of liberalism and indoctrination to the core,” warned Appling. “The question is, who now holds the UW accountable for doing what they have agreed to?”
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.