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UW Board of Regents votes down compromise on DEI, pay raises

It is rare for the board to reject a proposal that's been put up for a vote

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A man looks to the side as he speaks into a microphone.
UW System President Jay Rothman speaks Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022 during the UW System Board of Regents meeting at UW-Green Bay. Angela Major/WPR

The Universities of Wisconsin’s Board of Regents rejected a compromise with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a special meeting Saturday.

The deal, brokered by university leaders and released on Friday, would have seen legislators release pay raises for about 34,000 university system employees that have been in limbo for months in exchange for cutting diversity, equity and inclusion positions and other measures.

Members of the boards made speeches in favor of diversity programming and warned that accepting the deal would only lead to future concessions to lawmakers. It is rare for the board to reject a proposal that has been put up for a vote.

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“It’s divisive, it’s polarizing and will ultimately lead to even more negative effects on the university system for decades to come. Let’s go back to the table,” said Regent Angela Adams. “Our brand reputation also has value. And so I’ve reached the conclusion that it is shortsighted to accept such an indecent proposal.”

During the debate, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman said the university system is committed to closing gaps in retention and graduation rates among underrepresented students.

“At the same time, we have to look at diversity as a broader concept, and we have to be inclusive and belonging to all students,” Rothman said. “Certainly underrepresented students from underrepresented groups, but also students of different ideological and religious space, veterans, disabled students, first generation students and the like. That is all part and parcel of who we are at the Universities of Wisconsin as we live our core values of diversity and inclusion.”

The deal Rothman brokered with Vos would have created an administrative chair position to focus on “conservative political thought, classical economic theory, or classical liberalism.” It also would have ended a program aimed at recruiting faculty of color.

Ashok Rai was one of the regents who spoke in favor of the plan. He said he first came to UW-Milwaukee in 1990, shortly before the start of the Gulf War.

“I was called names that I had never imagined being called before,” he said. “Diversity means a lot to me. Equity means a lot to me.”

Rai said he trusted Rothman and UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin to negotiate what is in the best interest of the universities.

Nine members of the board voted against the plan, while eight voted in favor.

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