Watch CBS News

Wisconsin GOP withholds university pay raises in fight over school diversity funding

WCCO digital update: Morning of Oct. 17, 2023
WCCO digital update: Morning of Oct. 17, 2023 01:15

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature withheld pay raises for Universities of Wisconsin employees while approving raises for other state workers on Tuesday in an ongoing fight over the school system's diversity, equity and inclusion spending.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who co-chairs the Legislature's employment relations committee, has promised to block pay raises for UW employees until the school system cuts its so-called DEI spending by $32 million.

"We're only doing half our job today," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard said. "We are denying pay increases to half of our state workforce because of one person's resistance to inclusion on our campuses."

While writing the budget in June, Republicans slashed UW's funding by $32 million because they estimated that's what the system's 13 campuses put towards DEI efforts over two years. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers used his veto power to save 188 DEI positions at the university, but the funding cut remained.

The budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Evers also included pay raises for state employees of 4% this year and 2% next year. The employee relations committee, made up of legislative leaders and controlled 6-2 by Republicans, approved those raises on Tuesday for state workers other than the university system's roughly 36,000 full-time employees.

READ MORE: Wisconsin Gov. Evers vows budget veto if GOP cuts diversity funds from university system

Vos said Tuesday he was open to approving pay raises for UW employees if the school system gave up the power to create its own jobs, including DEI roles. He said he was planning to meet with UW officials later Tuesday to continue negotiations.

"There is one agency in state government that is allowed to create positions outside of the legislative process," Vos said, referring to UW. "When I talk to people, they do not want some kind of ideological agenda."

Committee member Sen. Howard Marklein, a Republican, broke away from Vos' position. In a statement after the vote, Marklein said he was "very disappointed" the UW pay increases weren't scheduled for a vote.

"The local employees on our campuses should not be penalized for policy decisions made by leaders of the university system," he said.

The fight in Wisconsin reflects a broader cultural battle playing out across the nation over college diversity initiatives. Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas both signed laws this year banning the use of diversity, equity and inclusion measures in student admissions and staff employment decisions at colleges and universities. Similar bills were proposed in about a dozen Republican-led states.


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.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.