Assembly Democrats unhappy with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion focus at UW-System

By Benjamin Yount

(The Center Square) – Democrats at the Wisconsin Capitol say their Republican colleagues have a "disturbing" negative focus on diversity, equity and inclusion within the University of Wisconsin System.

The five Democratic state representatives on the Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities yesterday released a statement slamming the Republican demand for less DEI at in the UW System.

“We are disturbed at the common thread throughout the hearing today regarding higher education funding and diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI),” Reps. Jodi Emerson, D-Madison, Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, Clinton Anderson, D-Beloit, Alex Joers, D-Middleton, and Sheila Stubbs, D-Madison, said in a joint statement. “At a time when 71% of companies surveyed have implemented DEI initiatives, it is both misguided and backwards to consider ending DEI at UW System campuses.”

The Democrats’ disappointment comes after UW President Jay Rothman on Thursday said he is dropping mandatory DEI statements for anyone applying at a UW campus.

"We remain absolutely committed to the principles of DEI," Rothman told reporters Thursday. "But when some people believe mandatory diversity statements in employment applications are political litmus tests, then we are not being inclusive."

Republican state Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said he has yet to see the benefits of the UW’s focus on DEI.

“I think people are talking about viewpoint diversity as being as important or more important than other types of diversity,” Murphy said. “And I think [diversity efforts aren’t] showing any benefits.”

The top Republican in the Wisconsin Assembly, Speaker Robin Vos, has suggested withholding state funding from the UW System as a way to discourage more DEI initiatives.

The Democrats on the committee on Thursday said the university cannot give-in to threats over diversity.

“Students benefit from campus environments where they experience all forms of diversity, not just diversity of thought,” the group said. “To suggest that lawmakers should cut DEI programming from UW System in order to receive public funding, as Speaker Vos has suggested and was implied in today’s hearing, is not only wrong, but exactly the suppression of free speech that Republicans continue to warn about.”

The hearing comes after a series of questions about free speech and diversity on UW campuses, and after a UW survey earlier this year that showed half of students are afraid to speak up out of fears they will be shouted down.