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Wisconsin university system reaches deal with Republicans that would scale back diversity positions

Faced with a demand from Republican lawmakers to axe diversity initiatives or go without raises and other funding, Universities of Wisconsin officials announced Friday that they've agreed to freeze hiring for diversity positions, drop an affirmative action faculty hiring program at UW-Madison and create a position at the flagship campus focused on conservative thought.

Conservatives have long criticized the UW system as a bastion of liberalism. The fight in Wisconsin reflects a broader cultural battle playing out across the nation over college diversity initiatives.

Republican lawmakers in June refused to release funding for a new engineering building at UW-Madison and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in October blocked pay raises for employees across the system until it cut spending on positions that promote diversity.

Vos has said promoting diversity only exacerbates division. Democrats, however, have accused Republicans of holding employees hostage by blocking pay raises. They argue that diversity initiatives enhance the collegiate experience and play a crucial role in identifying promising students who grew up with fewer resources.

Vos and UW officials have been working behind the scenes on a compromise, however. Under the deal released Friday, the system would freeze hiring for diversity positions through the end of 2026 and shift at least 43 diversity positions to focus on “student success.” The system also would eliminate any statements supporting diversity on student applications.

UW-Madison would create a position that focuses on conservative political thought. The position would be funded through donations and scrap a program designed to recruit diverse faculty.

UW-Madison would be forced to accept applicants who finish in the top 5% of their class at a Wisconsin high school. Applicants who finish in the top 10% of their class at a Wisconsin high school would be guaranteed admission at regional campuses.

In exchange, lawmakers would release money to fund a 6% pay raise for UW employees over the next two years. They also would release about $200 million UW-Madison officials say they need to build a new engineering building on campus as well as money to renovate several dorms on the flagship campus.

Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman during a news conference Friday called the negotiations difficult and the end product a compromise. But he said the deal will help the system continue to function.

Regents are expected to sign off on the deal during a hastily called meeting Saturday morning. Large sections of the deal will require legislative approval and will need to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

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