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Vos will try to block UW pay raises unless campuses eliminate DEI positions

More than $100M in funding already approved in state budget could be withheld

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is seen during a convening of the Assembly
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is seen during a convening of the Assembly at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Jan. 25, 2020 in Madison, Wis. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he will try to block pay raises for about 34,000 people who work for schools in the University of Wisconsin System unless campuses eliminate positions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

In an interview with WisPolitics last week, Vos said, “I don’t think that they (UW System) deserve to have any more resources until they accomplish the goal.”

Earlier this year, Vos and Republican colleagues backed cutting $32 million from the UW System’s budget and eliminating 188 staff positions that were related to DEI efforts for students and staff.

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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers spared the jobs with a line-item veto, but the $32 million cut remained in the budget he signed into law this summer. The funding is technically slated for workforce development initiatives at state campuses, but Vos has said it won’t be released unless DEI is eliminated.

Vos said he won’t support another nickel going to state universities unless that happens.

“When I say a nickel, that’s what I mean,” Vos told WisPolitics.

Republican and Democratic state lawmakers already approved funding for pay increases for the approximate 34,000 employees in the UW System, with those workers expecting to receive a 4 percent increases in fiscal year 2024 and a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal year 2025. Before raises go into effect, the funding must be approved by the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Employee Relations, of which Vos is a co-chair.

All told, Vos is threatening to withhold $107.6 million in funding through 2025 for UW employee pay raises if campuses don’t cut DEI positions. His office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In a statement sent to Wisconsin Public Radio, UW System President Jay Rothman says he remains hopeful UW employees around Wisconsin will receive pay raises “as funded by the legislature.”

“We continue to have discussions with the Speaker and appreciate that there are differing views on ED&I (DEI),” Rothman said. “We believe we can work through these issues without adversely affecting employees and their families. I am proud of our employees who have demonstrated their commitment to our students and our state.”

UW-La Crosse Associate Professor Stephen Mann is the campus’s Faculty Senate chair. He told WPR many employees livelihoods would be impacted “as a political move in order to fulfill this agenda against DEI initiatives.”

“And I think that shows a lack of respect and a lack of value that is seen in the important work that the employees of the UW system are doing in the state for the people of the state,” Mann said.

It’s unclear whether other Republicans on the Joint Committee on Employee Relations will go along with Vos’ plan to withhold pay raises. Emails to those state senators and representatives asking whether they support the idea were not returned.

If the committee modifies or rejects the funding for UW pay raises, Gov. Evers can oppose the action. But with a 6-2 majority on the committee, Republicans could override the governor’s disapproval.

Editors note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.