Vote on University of Wisconsin Budget Delayed by Republicans Amid Debate on Diversity Funding

by Madison Thomas
diversity funds

Republican state lawmakers chose to postpone a vote on the funding for University of Wisconsin campuses on Tuesday, shortly after a prominent GOP leader pledged to reduce the college system’s budget as part of an ongoing dispute over diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the leading Republican in the state, stated to The Big Big News on Tuesday that he anticipated the budget-writing committee, controlled by the GOP, to eliminate all funds allocated to diversity initiatives within the university system. He approximated the total cuts to be around $32 million.

“I hope we can eliminate that expenditure. The university should have already decided to reallocate it towards something more productive and widely supported,” expressed Vos.

Governor Tony Evers and other Democrats responded with strong disapproval. Following nearly seven hours of closed-door discussions, the Republican-controlled finance committee failed to reach an agreement and postponed the consideration of the University of Wisconsin’s budget.

These talks of budget reductions come just days after Republicans declined to fund the university’s top priority building project—a new engineering facility at the flagship Madison campus.

Tensions between Republicans, who hold the majority in the Legislature, and the state’s university system are not new. However, this year’s conflict revolves around issues of free speech and the university’s efforts to promote diversity and racial equity.

According to UW spokesperson Mark Pitsch, the annual salaries for current system employees exclusively dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion work amount to approximately $15.6 million. This figure does not include funding for diversity events or other initiatives.

Vos has criticized campus diversity offices as a waste of taxpayer money, arguing that they contribute to racial divisions. In contrast, UW System President Jay Rothman hired a new chief diversity officer with an annual salary of $225,000, who began working on Monday. However, he did not publicly announce the hiring during a UW Board of Regents meeting earlier in the month.

“I want the university to grow and succeed, but if they are fixated on spending all their limited resources on programs that clearly create divisions and offer little public benefit, I fail to see why we should support that,” Vos remarked.

This conflict reflects a larger cultural battle occurring across the nation regarding diversity initiatives in higher education. A Big Big News analysis conducted in April found that Republican lawmakers have introduced over 30 bills in 12 states this year to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in colleges and universities.

Democratic Senator Kelda Roys, whose district encompasses the UW-Madison campus, criticized Vos and expressed her disapproval of the drive to eliminate diversity initiatives, considering it a petty move ahead of the finance committee meeting.

“It would be difficult to find a major organization in this country that is not taking steps to promote equity and inclusion,” said Roys. “The UW is the economic powerhouse of the state. Making any cuts to the UW, especially those driven by politics, will only harm every individual in this state.”

In September, UW regents requested an overall spending increase of nearly $436 million in state funding over the next two years, citing low revenue due to a decade-long tuition freeze and rising costs from inflation. However, it is highly unlikely that the budget committee will approve this request, which was approximately $130 million higher than what Governor Evers proposed for UW. The committee has not yet announced a rescheduled date for the vote.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Republican Representative Mark Born, co-chair of the finance committee, declined to respond to questions.

If the budget cuts proposed by Vos are passed, the UW System may face a shortfall of nearly half a billion dollars over the next two years, as per school officials’ estimates. As a result, students could bear the burden as university leaders explore options to bridge the funding gaps.

UW System President Rothman proposed tuition and fee increases ranging from 3% to 5.4% for undergraduate students across the 13 colleges in the system after Governor Evers suggested providing UW with $130 million less than requested.

The finance committee has largely disregarded Governor Evers’ proposals, discarding over 500 of his budget items last month, including plans for a cabinet-level chief equity officer, 18 equity officers in state agencies, and a state-funded diversity, equity, and inclusion conference.

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

Scott Bauer, a writer for Big Big News, contributed to this report. Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Harm on Twitter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about University of Wisconsin budget

What is the reason for the delay in the vote on the University of Wisconsin budget?

The delay in the vote on the University of Wisconsin budget is due to a dispute over the allocation of funds for diversity and inclusion initiatives, which has sparked a debate among Republican lawmakers.

How much funding is expected to be cut from the university system’s diversity initiatives?

The top Republican leader, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, estimated that the cuts to the university system’s diversity initiatives would total $32 million.

What are the concerns raised by Republicans regarding diversity offices on campuses?

Republicans argue that campus diversity offices are a waste of taxpayer money and contribute to racial divisions, deeming them unnecessary and counterproductive.

What impact could the proposed budget cuts have on the University of Wisconsin System?

If the budget cuts proposed by Republicans are passed, the University of Wisconsin System could face a shortfall of nearly half a billion dollars over the next two years, potentially leading to challenges in filling funding gaps and impacting students.

How are Democrats and other critics responding to the proposed cuts?

Democrats and critics of the proposed cuts argue that they will harm the state’s economic growth and hinder efforts to achieve equity and inclusion. They emphasize the importance of supporting the university system and its initiatives for the benefit of all individuals in the state.

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MxActivist June 15, 2023 - 3:27 am

So typical of the GOP to ignore the need for equity and inclusion. University of Wisconsin students will suffer if these cuts happen. We must stand up for diversity! ✊

JohnDoe01 June 15, 2023 - 4:01 am

I don’t get why they’re delaying the vote. Seems like a political game to me. Students shouldn’t have to pay the price for their disputes. #Unfair


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