Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly have introduced a bill that would ban public higher education officials in the state from using race-conscious practices while considering loans, grants or student retention plans.
The bill significantly would amend minority- and diversity-focused programs and requirements “so they apply to disadvantaged students rather than minority students.” It includes no specific benchmarks for what level of financial need a student must show to be considered disadvantaged. It explicitly disallows consideration of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and religion.
The bill would affect University of Wisconsin system grants and recruitment programs for minority students, a minority teacher loan program, and a state stipulation that the Medical College of Wisconsin set a 5% target for minority enrollment in exchange for funding.
The legislation is part of a larger push from Republicans to deemphasize diversity in higher education, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the GOP-led Joint Committee on Employee Relations are refusing to approve pay raises for University of Wisconsin employees unless the system eliminates funding for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Republicans had already cut $32 million from the University of Wisconsin’s budget for 2023-2025, estimating that was the amount the system would spend on diversity, equity and inclusion, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ veto saved 188 related positions from being terminated. Vos is now demanding the university system end spending on diversity, equity and inclusion anyway in order for employees to get their 6% raises, which were already included in the 2023-2024 budget approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.
“These are people who have to buy food. These are people who have to pay rent. These are people who have to buy clothes for their children,” University of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman said, according to radio station WTMJ. “In an inflationary environment, it’s very disappointing because it is impacting people.”
Republicans withheld the raises even as they voted Oct. 17 to approve raises for other state employees, the Associated Press reported.
“These people deserve raises,” Evers told journalists that day. “It’s been passed by the Legislature and to have it be hijacked at the last minute by one person, that’s wrong too.”
Spokespeople for the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Technical College System told the Wisconsin State Journal that they were reviewing the changes in the bill.
A spokesperson for Evers indicated to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the governor opposes the bill and would likely veto it.
“Gov. Evers has full confidence that the UW and other state agencies are perfectly capable of adhering to U.S. Supreme Court decisions without the unsolicited help of Republicans in the Legislature who’ve shown they neither understand nor appreciate higher education in Wisconsin,” spokesperson Britt Cudaback told the newspaper.
The legislation comes just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious college admissions processes are unconstitutional. In the aftermath of that ruling, Vos promised the Assembly would vote on legislation to repeal “discriminatory laws on the books.”
Wisconsin is not the only state in which Republicans are attacking diversity in higher education. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in May barring public colleges and universities from spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Florida is currently facing a federal lawsuit from a group of students and professors who say the law infringes on their right to free speech.