Wisconsin Republicans withhold college pay raises

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

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

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

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

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

Vos said Tuesday that 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 positions. He said he planned to meet with University of Washington officials later Tuesday to continue negotiations.

"There is an agency in state government that is allowed to create positions outside of the legislative process," Vos said, referring to the University of Washington. "When I talk to people, they don't want any kind of ideological agenda."

Republican Senator Howard Marklein, a member of the committee, broke with Vos' position. In a statement after the vote, Marklein said he was "very disappointed" that the University of Washington's salary increases were not scheduled for a vote.

"Local employees on our campuses should not be penalized for political decisions made by university system leaders," he said.

The fight in Wisconsin reflects a broader cultural battle playing out across the country over university diversity initiatives. Republican governors. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas signed laws this year prohibiting 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.

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