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UW-Madison protests over racist video come as Legislature looks to cut diversity funding

Republicans suggest ideological uniformity on campus has moved policies and courses further to the left

Bascom Hill
Richard Hurd (CC BY 2.0)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus erupted in protests this week over a student’s racist video. Meanwhile, the UW System is getting even more serious pressure from the state Legislature for perceived liberal bias.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has suggested potential budget cuts to the UW System if it doesn’t phase out diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, offices at its campuses.

“The university has gone from being an institute of higher education to an institute of indoctrination,” Vos told the Journal Sentinel. “If they want to increase their funding, they have to show they can prioritize things to grow the economy, not grow the racial divide.”

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Vos did not respond to requests for comment from Wisconsin Public Radio.

The system spends about $13.6 million annually on 185 administrators related to DEI, according to a WisPolitics analysis.

Some Republican state lawmakers have proposed including political ideology in diversity trainings and considering party status when hiring professors.

During a five-hour Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities Wednesday, dozens of legislators and faculty members suggested ideological uniformity on campus has moved policies and courses further to the left.

In an interview with WPR this week, UW System President Jay Rothman said he’s committed to educating a diverse group of students and wants them to be exposed to professors who represent a range of cultures, ideas and opinions.

Rothman told WPR he wants to implement new DEI goals, focusing on the “I” of inclusion, when hiring people to work in the UW System. He said when hiring, the university system must also focus on “thought diversity” and “viewpoint diversity.”

“We look at historically underrepresented groups without question and that has to be a focus,” Rothman said. “But we also look at disabled students, we look at veterans, we look at those coming from lower socio-economic means, all as part of creating that inclusive environment.”

Meanwhile, at Wisconsin’s flagship public university, students have been protesting after a video surfaced of a fellow student using racial slurs and threatening the lives of the Black community. WPR has not independently identified the student’s identity and is not naming her.

More than 200 students gathered outside of Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin’s office Wednesday demanding the student’s expulsion.

Today, Mnookin sent a letter to BLK PWR Coalition, a student-led organization that advocates for the recognition of the Black community, saying she “unequivocally condemn racism, including the blatantly racist slurs and sentiments expressed in the video,” but said her hands are tied because student’s actions weren’t unlawful.

“As to the individuals within the racist video, there are numerous legal constraints both on what we can say and what we can do as a public university, even though the video is both hateful and harmful,” Mnookin wrote. “I know that is not what you want to hear, but we are also bound to obey the law.”

Protests on campus organized by the BLK PWR Coalition continued Thursday.