Republicans to cut University of Wisconsin budget in ongoing fight over diversity and inclusion
Jun 13, 2023, 10:33 AM
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican state lawmakers were poised Tuesday to cut funding for University of Wisconsin campuses as the GOP-controlled Legislature and school officials continue to clash over efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.
The vote comes just days after Republicans refused to fund the university’s top building project priority — a new engineering facility on the flagship Madison campus.
Tensions between Republicans who control the Legislature and the state’s university system are nothing new. But the fight this year centers on issues of free speech and UW’s work to advance diversity and racial equity.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the state’s top Republican, said ahead of a meeting of the budget-writing committee on Tuesday that he wants it to cut all funding for diversity initiatives at UW. He estimated the cuts would total $32 million.
“I hope we have the ability to eliminate that spending. The university should have already chosen to redirect it to something that is more productive and more broadly supported,” Vos told The Associated Press.
University officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Vos has previously called campus diversity offices a waste of taxpayer money and said they further racial divides. Meanwhile, UW System President Jay Rothman hired a new chief diversity officer with an annual salary of $225,000 who began work on Monday. He did not publicize the hiring at a UW Board of Regents meeting earlier this month.
“I want the university to grow and succeed, but if they are obsessed with spending all the scarce dollars that they have on programs that are clearly divisive and offer little public good, I don’t know why we’d want to support that,” Vos said.
The fight reflects a broader cultural battle playing out across the nation over college diversity initiatives. Republican lawmakers this year have proposed more than 30 bills in 12 states to limit diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education, an Associated Press analysis found in April.
Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys, whose district includes the UW-Madison campus, called Vos petty and criticized the push to eliminate diversity initiatives.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a major organization in this country that isn’t doing something to help them achieve equity and inclusion,” Roys said. “The UW is the economic engine of the state. Making any cuts to the UW, especially politically motivated ones, is just going to harm every person in this state.”
UW regents asked the Legislature in September for a total spending increase of nearly $436 million in state money over the next two years, citing low revenue from a decadelong tuition freeze and rising costs due to inflation. Vos said the budget committee plans to reject that request, which was about $130 million higher than even Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wanted for UW.
Factoring in the expected budget cuts, Tuesday’s vote could leave the UW System nearly half a billion dollars short of what school officials say they need.
The fallout could land on the backs of students as UW leaders look to fill gaps in funding.
Rothman proposed $130 million less than it wanted.
Republicans have largely ignored Evers’ proposals, scrapping more than 500 of the governor’s budget items last month including proposals 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 complete its budget plan by the end of June, at which point Evers can make adjustments using partial vetoes or send it back to lawmakers for revisions.
Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/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.