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Attacks on DEI in Wisconsin Are DOA

When we saw the University of Wisconsin (UW) president in cahoots with Republicans, we should’ve known nothing good would come from it. What we know is that the GOP is on a mission, a mission to destroy anything associated with leveling the playing field for the “other.”

Historically discriminated against students were almost thrown under the bus in order to unblock the funds for the engineering building and reclaim a previous $32 million budget cut. Pay raises were probably thrown into the mix only to temper the impending uproar from DEI supporters and to sweeten the deal when it went before the UW Board of Regents.

In a narrow vote of 9-8, Regents rejected the deal. When I see numbers like this, it usually indicates a vote informed by party affiliation. But we’ll take a victory whenever we can get one. This time, the deal was Dead on Arrival (DOA), but it will keep getting resurrected in other ways.

As part of the hostage negotiations deal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had convinced UW President Jay Rothman to  “re-imagine” diversity, equity and inclusion. Translation: dismantle anything that looks like affirmative action.

Based on Rothman’s concession, UW was prepared to eliminate positions and programs while at the same time creating a new position to nurture conservative thought.

DEI stands for diversity, equity or equality and inclusion. It has evolved as an intentional response to the systemic forms of discrimination based on identity or disability. DEI’s goal is to promote fair and equitable treatment of those constituencies through education and advocacy. Offices responsible for oversight and implementation of DEI programs have sprung up on campuses, in nonprofits and in corporate spaces.

The GOP are moving with ferocity and purpose, but the momentum had been growing long before the SCOTUS decision to take the country backwards. According to data collected by the Chronicle for Higher Education, nearly half of the states have introduced anti-DEI legislation, so Wisconsin is part of the national game plan.

I have the utmost confidence in the UW family, that once the so-called deal is dissected and explained, it will support the Regents’ decision. The Regents will be criticized for denying UW workers a raise but a hostile take-over was averted. Many of them see that these are the same forces shutting down Zionist dissent on campuses and attempting to punish those calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. If university life is supposed to expose students to the many world views that will sharpen their critical thinking skills, any efforts to muffle or shut down those voices or experiences are anti-democratic.

The Trump world that conservatives are desperately trying to hold onto is one of the past where the only folks who have value are white men of privilege. The world we live in now is not the one in place at the time white landowners signed the U.S. Constitution.

Fair-minded people, especially those who have been discriminated against and oppressed, are fighting for a different world. It’s a world that embraces the humanity and brilliance of all citizens regardless of the race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and abilities. Together, those people make up the majority. We will not go backwards.

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