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University of Wisconsin System board approves deal for $800 million in state funding that cuts back diversity initiatives

By Raja Razek and Andy Rose, CNN

(CNN) — The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has voted 11 to 6 for a deal with GOP lawmakers to cut back diversity initiatives in exchange for state funding — a deal the same board rejected four days ago.

The agreement allows for more than $800 million to be used for several initiatives, including pay raises and projects, university system officials said.

Among the concessions made by the university system is a freeze in the number of diversity, equity, and inclusion positions. The system will also “realign” at least 43 DEI jobs over the next two years through “restructuring and reimagining of the DEI function,” according to the Board of Regents meeting book.

UW-Madison would also eliminate its primary recruiting program for diversifying its faculty, according to the meeting book.

The vote in Wisconsin comes as DEI programs in universities are being cut across the country.

More than a dozen state legislatures have introduced or passed bills reining in DEI programs in colleges and universities, claiming the offices eat up valuable financial resources with little impact. Multiple states, like North Carolina and South Carolina, have introduced bills to track college DEI spending. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning public colleges and universities from spending money on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in May.

Scrutiny of these initiatives’ place in colleges and universities has mounted, largely from conservative lawmakers who have for years claimed DEI efforts are a form of indoctrination.

Meanwhile, scholars credit DEI policies and programs as one way to combat inequality by encouraging multiculturalism and providing resources for people of different backgrounds.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, expressed disappointment over the board’s decision Wednesday.

I disagree with the regents’ decision today,” the governor said in a news release. “I am disappointed and frustrated with this result, this proposal, and the process that led up to this point.

It is also my expectation that every individual who promised in this process that the important work of building diversity, equity, and inclusion and making sure our campuses are welcoming and work for everyone would not be diminished by this action will be working in earnest to make good on that commitment,” Evers said. “And I’m going to make damn sure that they do.

While the University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman thanked the Board of Regents for their approval, he acknowledged that “not everyone will be happy” in a post on X.

“Given the circumstances, this is good for our students, our universities, and the state of Wisconsin.” Rothman said on X. “Compromise can be extraordinarily difficult, and I acknowledge that not everyone will be happy. Significant priorities that will benefit our students are in this agreement. Our commitments are conditioned on legislative action.”

He added that “diversity and inclusion are core values, but we are open to changing how some of these positions can better benefit student retention and graduation.”

The agreement, which was reached last week between the university system and state Republican leaders, was initially rejected 9-8 in a special board meeting Saturday.

In addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money for pay raises and capital expenditures, the agreement includes a new engineering building at the UW-Madison, according to a joint statement shared Friday by Republican House Speaker Robin Vos.

The deal also includes a move to give the top high schoolers in Wisconsin the opportunity to be automatically admitted to the university system, under certain conditions.

“Our caucus objective has always been aimed at dismantling the bureaucracy and division related to DEI and reprioritizing our universities towards an emphasis on what matters — student success and achievement,” House Speaker Robin Vos (R) said in a statement Friday after the compromise was reached.

After Wednesday’s vote, University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents member Edmund Manydeeds said he accepts and supports the board’s decision.

“We have heard now pledges from the system, the campus representatives and the Board of Regents that they are all committed to improving and reimagining the spirit of diversity, equity and inclusion– is my intent to make sure that that happens,” Edmund Manydeeds said.

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CNN’s Leah Asmelash contributed to this report.

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