Ongoing Dispute Over Diversity and Inclusion Leads Republicans to Reduce University of Wisconsin Budget

by Madison Thomas
diversity funds

In the midst of an ongoing conflict regarding diversity and inclusion, Republican state lawmakers are preparing to decrease the funding allocated to University of Wisconsin campuses. The clash between the GOP-controlled Legislature and school officials has escalated, with recent events including the Republicans’ refusal to finance the university’s primary construction project, an engineering facility on the flagship Madison campus.

While tensions between Republicans and the state’s university system are not uncommon, this year’s battle revolves around matters of free speech and the university’s endeavors to advance diversity and racial equity.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a prominent Republican figure in the state, expressed his intention to cut all funding directed towards diversity initiatives within the university system. He estimated that these cuts would amount to $32 million.

In response, UW spokesperson Mark Pitsch highlighted that the salaries of current system employees dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts total approximately $15.6 million annually, excluding funds allocated to diversity events and other initiatives.

Vos has previously criticized campus diversity offices as a misuse of taxpayer money, claiming that they contribute to racial divisions. In contrast, UW System President Jay Rothman discreetly hired a new chief diversity officer, commencing work with an annual salary of $225,000 on Monday. This appointment was not publicized during a UW Board of Regents meeting earlier in the month.

While Vos aims to support the university’s growth and success, he questions the wisdom of allocating limited funds towards programs that are divisive and offer little public benefit.

This dispute reflects a broader cultural struggle occurring nationwide concerning diversity initiatives in higher education. An analysis by Big Big News in April revealed that Republican lawmakers in 12 states have proposed over 30 bills this year to restrict efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Democratic Senator Kelda Roys, whose district includes the UW-Madison campus, criticized Vos, considering his actions petty and disagreeing with the drive to eliminate diversity initiatives.

The UW Board of Regents requested an increase in state funding of nearly $436 million over the next two years in September, citing low revenue due to a decade-long tuition freeze and rising inflation-related costs. Vos stated that the budget committee plans to reject this request, which exceeds even the desires of Democratic Governor Tony Evers by approximately $130 million.

Taking into account the anticipated budget cuts, the vote scheduled for Tuesday could leave the UW System with a shortage of almost half a billion dollars, as stated by school officials.

The repercussions may ultimately impact students as university leaders explore options to bridge the funding gaps. Rothman proposed tuition and fee hikes ranging from 3% to 5.4% for undergraduate students across the 13 colleges in the UW System after Evers suggested providing $130 million less than what the university sought.

Evers criticized the Republican plan, deeming it disastrous and asserting that it would harm the state’s children, economy, and workforce.

Republicans on the finance committee have largely disregarded Evers’ proposals, discarding over 500 items from the governor’s budget last month, including plans for a chief equity officer at the cabinet level, 18 equity officers in state agencies, and a state-funded conference on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Legislature is expected to finalize its budget plan by the end of June, at which point Evers can use partial vetoes to make adjustments or send it back to lawmakers for revisions.

Harm Venhuizen is a reporter with the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Harm on Twitter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about diversity and inclusion

What is the reason behind the budget cuts for the University of Wisconsin?

The budget cuts for the University of Wisconsin are primarily due to ongoing clashes between Republican lawmakers and school officials over issues related to diversity and inclusion. Republicans argue that funding allocated to diversity initiatives is better spent elsewhere.

How much funding is estimated to be cut from the university system?

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has estimated that the funding cuts for the university system’s diversity initiatives could amount to $32 million.

What is the impact of the budget cuts on the university’s financial situation?

With the anticipated budget cuts, the University of Wisconsin system could face a shortfall of nearly half a billion dollars, according to school officials. This could have repercussions on various aspects, including potential tuition and fee hikes to compensate for the funding gaps.

How are Republican lawmakers and Democratic officials responding to the situation?

Republican lawmakers on the finance committee have largely disregarded proposals from Democratic Governor Tony Evers, including those related to diversity and equity. Democrats have criticized the budget cuts, arguing that they will harm students, the state’s economy, and workforce development.

What is the broader context of this dispute?

This dispute reflects a larger cultural battle taking place across the country regarding diversity initiatives in higher education. Republican lawmakers in multiple states have introduced bills aimed at limiting efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion on college campuses.

More about diversity and inclusion

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SportsFanatic99 June 14, 2023 - 7:31 am

These politicians need to stop playin politics and start focusin on what matters. Instead of fightin over budget cuts, they should be workin together to improve education for all students, regardless of their background.

BookLover123 June 14, 2023 - 10:32 am

This is a terrible blow to the university system! Education should prioritize inclusivity and equality. The students will suffer if they have to face tuition hikes. We need to support diversity, not cut funding for it!

JohnSmith42 June 14, 2023 - 10:51 am

why can’t they see the value of diversity initiatives? its jus wastin taxpayer $$$. i agree with Vos, redirect that money to somethin more useful and supported by everyone!

MusicLover23 June 14, 2023 - 2:11 pm

It’s sad to see the university caught up in this political mess. Diversity and inclusion should be celebrated, not undermined. Let’s hope they find a way to bridge the gap and support students’ needs. #StandForInclusion


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