DEI discussed at university hearing Monday as latest funding battle continues

MADISON, Wisconsin (CBS 58) – The battle over state funding for Wisconsin’s public universities continued Monday.

Jay Rothman, President of the UW System, testified before a Senate committee in Madison and spoke about the ongoing fight over diversity, equality and inclusion programs.

DEI programs have become the poster child of the philosophical battle that could stall the state budget.

Leading Republicans have called for these programs to be scrapped. In response, Governor Evers threatened to veto any budget that included such cuts. The future of the state’s workforce is still at stake, educators say.

Mark Mone, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told the Senate Universities and Funding Committee, “Without additional investment, we will be left behind. The crown jewel, the UW system, will not shine any longer.”

UW system leaders said Monday the network of 13 state universities could face serious trouble if lawmakers don’t provide it with adequate funding.

Rothman told the committee, “The battle for talent is real and urgent.”

They said Wisconsin employers are not hiring enough qualified graduates.

Rothman continued, “We are all acutely aware that we are not training enough engineers, nurses, data scientists and educators to meet the needs of the state’s employers.”

He added that if those positions could not be filled, they would be moved out of the state.

In response, Rothman said the UW system has set a goal of increasing the number of graduates across the system by 10% by 2028 — to a total of 41,000 — to meet the needs of Wisconsin employers.

But funding is a problem. Rothman said that while Wisconsin technical college funding is high (fourth in the country), “public funding for our four-year university system currently ranks 42nd.”nd of 50 states in the country.”

This struggle is in addition to the political struggle over diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Over the weekend, Parliament Speaker Robin Vos doubled down on his claims that DEI is divisive. At the state Republican Party convention on Saturday, Vos told an audience, “The open exclusion, the open indoctrination is so ingrained in the UW system that I’m embarrassed to be an alumni.”

After Vos initially called for $32 million in cuts to DEI programs, Governor Evers threatened to veto any budget proposal that included those cuts.

But Vos did not give in and called for even deeper cuts.

Educators and Democrats have pushed back hard.

At Monday’s hearing, Rothman explained what’s at stake if Vos gets his cuts. “I think I’m asking myself, are we really going to look at this and say we don’t want a ‘Women in STEM’ program? Are we really going to say we don’t want a veterans program?” He continued, “Are we really not going to have programs to help our first-generation students, who are braver than I can imagine, take that leap? “

But Senator Stephen Nass, a member of the Republican committee, was skeptical, telling Rothman, “I think some of the ones you mentioned, to be honest, are serving as a cover for what else is going on.”

But Rothman fought back, telling Nass, “They’re not. These are active programs designed to help students be successful.” Rothman added, “We really need to make sure that we welcome each other and that each of our students can feel like they belong to our campus.”

Rothman said, “Those are the right things to do for society.”

DEI is the latest fight, but Democrats at every level fear the war could result in draining as much funding as possible from public universities.

At a Juneteenth celebration Monday in Milwaukee, US Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin told us, “Punishing the university — our wonderful public university system — is short-sighted and wrong.”

Rothman called the overall situation a “funding challenge,” but Democratic Senator Kelda Roys respectfully disagreed, citing the state’s $7 billion surplus.

Senator Roys said, “‘funding challenge’ is not necessarily the right word, but ‘funding priorities’ or ‘political will’.”


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