The regents of Universities of Wisconsin narrowly voted Saturday to reject a deal with Republican lawmakers 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.
The regents voted 9-8 during an emergency meeting to reject the deal reached Friday after being brokered by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
“I don’t like this precedent,” Regent Dana Wachs said during the meeting. “We need to make this a welcoming environment.”
Conservatives have long criticized the UW system as a bastion of liberalism. Democrats 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. 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 Vos in October blocked pay raises for employees across the system until it cut spending on positions that promote diversity. Vos refused to allocate funding for the raises even though the state budget that Republicans approved this summer included a 6% raise over the next two years.
Under the deal, the system would have frozen 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 have eliminated any statements supporting diversity on student applications.
UW-Madison also would have created a position that focuses on conservative political thought funded through donations and scrapped a program designed to recruit diverse faculty.
UW-Madison would have been 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 have been guaranteed admission at regional campuses.
In exchange, lawmakers would have released money to fund the pay raise for UW employees and about $200 million that UW-Madison officials say they need to build a new engineering building on campus as well as money to renovate dorms on the flagship campus and at UW-Whitewater, Vos’ alma mater.
Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman said during a news conference that the negotiations were difficult and the end product was a compromise. But he said the deal would have helped the system continue to function.
Asked for comment Friday via email, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, pointed to remarks the governor made Tuesday in which he told WISN-TV that withholding UW pay raises is “really obnoxious.” She didn’t offer any comments on the deal itself.