Last Updated on December 10, 2023 by Robert C. Hoopes
Title: Board Rejects Controversial Deal, Sparks Debate on Diversity Efforts in State Universities
Word Count: 370
In a recent development, the board responsible for overseeing state public universities has rejected a highly debated deal aimed at “reimagining” diversity efforts on campus. The agreement, which had been negotiated with top Republican leaders, proposed a restructuring of diversity staff positions while freezing the number of such positions for the next three years.
Critics immediately voiced their concerns, arguing that the deal would have come at the expense of diversity efforts in exchange for $800 million in employee pay raises and building projects. As the negotiations unfolded, it was University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman and UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin who spearheaded the discussions with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
The board vote on the matter was sharply divided, with nine members voting against the deal and eight in favor. Senate Majority Leader, Devin LeMahieu, remained noncommittal regarding the agreement, stating that his caucus would need more time to deliberate before reaching a decision.
Democratic Governor Tony Evers, however, urged the legislature to consider approved pay raises for UW employees and find common ground in ongoing negotiations. During the discussions, board members carefully weighed the potential consequences of accepting the deal, particularly regarding the message it would send to campuses and the precedent it would set.
The deal faced significant backlash from both Democrats and numerous campus groups, who believed it placed buildings and pay raises ahead of crucial diversity efforts. Republicans supporting the agreement sought to rein in hiring within the UW system and reduce the scope of existing diversity programs.
Under the proposed deal, the UW System would have retained its current number of positions but would have restructured one-third of its diversity positions. Additionally, the agreement called for the discontinuation of a faculty hiring program designed to increase diversity and the introduction of a new orientation program on free speech for incoming students.
Moreover, the deal included provisions for cash allocations towards capital projects and employee pay raises. While the legislature had already approved the pay raises, a committee had declined to endorse them. The agreement stipulated that the raises must be approved by the end of the year.
Furthermore, the agreement vowed to release the $32 million that was previously cut from the UW budget back to campuses for specific needs. If accepted, UW-Madison would have received authorization for dorm renovations and the construction of a new engineering building, while UW-Whitewater would have received funds for academic building renovations.
Critics of the deal lamented that it set a negative precedent, as they believed it prioritized buildings and pay raises over vital diversity efforts. This decision has sparked a renewed debate on campus diversity and the outlook for future initiatives within Wisconsin’s public universities.