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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

UW Regents reverse course, approve deal to restructure DEI staff in return for funding

The Roberto Hernandez Center at UWM is one example of DEI efforts that are being targeted in a deal approved by the Board of Regents.
Emily Files
The Roberto Hernandez Center at UWM is one example of DEI efforts that are being targeted in a deal approved by the Board of Regents.

Last night, the UW Board of Regents reversed its earlier vote, and agreed to a deal that will restructure dozens of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) positions across public universities.

In return, Republican lawmakers are expected to approve 6% UW employee pay raises and money for an engineering school upgrade at UW-Madison.

UW System President Jay Rothman negotiated the deal with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Vos has blocked key funding for the UW System due to his opposition to DEI.

DEI programs are meant to support underrepresented students, including students of color. But Vos calls them part of left-wing indoctrination on campuses.

The deal brokered by Rothman would freeze administrative and DEI positions for three years and restructure a third of DEI jobs across campuses. It also eliminates a hiring initiative at UW-Madison focused on increasing faculty diversity. And it requires UW-Madison to seek philanthropic funding for a faculty position focused on conservative thought.

When Rothman brought the deal to the Board of Regents on Saturday, it was narrowly voted down. Regents said it would be a betrayal to students of color and set a concerning precedent.

But by Wednesday, some regents who voted "no" had changed their minds, including President Karen Walsh. Walsh said DEI efforts would still be a major priority for the UW System.

"This is really an opportunity to reimagine our efforts and work with our campuses and communities to get better results — results that help everyone find their place," Walsh said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, a handful of UW campus chancellors spoke in favor of the deal.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone called the plan "troubling," but said he was worried about losing employees if the 6% pay raises are withheld. And Mone worried about lawmakers cutting more funding from the UW System if regents rejected the deal.

"The rejection of this resolution could be used to justify further cuts," Mone said. "Some could say, 'If they don’t need these funds for raises or buildings or operations, what else can be reduced?' So I’m very concerned about the immediate and the future impact of this resolution on all our students and employees."

Mone, along with other school leaders, said they could find a way to uphold diversity efforts even though some DEI positions would be restructured.

But the targeting of DEI is concerning for students of color.

Isabel Chiriboga is a UWM junior studying sociology and vice president of the campus Leaders Igniting Transformation chapter. LIT has been vocal in its opposition to the DEI deal.

Chiriboga says UWM’s Roberto Hernandez Center, a support center specifically for Latino students, helped her adjust after she transferred to UWM from Marquette.

"They were the ones who really were welcoming me and helping me get my schedule together and understand campus culture and all that," Chiriboga said. "And without them I don’t know if I would have survived that whole period."

Despite the opposition from students, the regents reversed their previous decision. In an 11-6 vote, the board approved the compromise.

Vos celebrated the decision, and wrote: "Republicans know this is just the first step in what will be our continuing efforts to eliminate these cancerous DEI practices on UW campuses "

Much of the deal still needs to be approved by the full Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, and by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

In a statement after the Wednesday vote, Evers lambasted Republican legislators.

"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.

Editor's note: WUWM is a service of UW-Milwaukee. WUWM staff would be affected by the raises.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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