Saturday, December 9, 2023

2 big turns of events at the UW

Well, it's been an interesting 24 hours on Bascom Hill. Starting with what broke yesterday afternoon.

In a deal months in the making, the University of Wisconsin System has agreed to "reimagine" its diversity efforts, restructuring dozens of staff into positions serving all students and freezing the total number of diversity positions for the next three years.

In exchange, universities would receive $800 million for employee pay raises and some building projects, including a new engineering building for UW-Madison.

"This is an evolution, and this is a change moving forward," UW System President Jay Rothman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But it does not in any way deviate from our core values of diversity (and) inclusion."

The compromise brokered with Republican legislative leaders caps a contentious six months of negotiations for the state university system over diversity, equity and inclusion programming. Campuses view DEI programs and staff as critical in supporting a broad range of students while conservatives cast the effort as wasteful and racially divisive.
It's ridiculous that Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos made DEI into such a big deal, because pretty much any business worth a damn has some kind of DEI training and outreach in 2023, and it seems important to show underrepresented groups that they are welcome and valued on campus.

But because Vos cares more about following the culture-war agenda handed down from ALEC and in having his 5'7" self show others that he has power, he held those 4% pay raises from UW employees hostage as the co-chair on the state's Joint Committee on Employee Relations.

System President Jay Rothman thought he had a deal in place that could be accepted by the UW's Board of Regents. And it turned out he was wrong.

Well that wasn't expected. And so we're back to where we were.

Here's the funny part about this whole DEI agreement to me - I don't think much was going to change, and it was a fig leaf for Vos and WisGOP to claim they got something out of a losing issue. Take a look at the language used in the resolution, and it seems like all they were doing were changing job titles.
Through December 31, 2026, the System will not increase from the level currently in effect the aggregate number of positions that serve the System’s core DEI functions: (i) the DEI subfamily that provides DEI services, (ii) the job subgroup “academic services and student experience” with job titles that include DEI, and (iii) senior leadership positions in the dean and/or vice chancellor series focused on DEI. In addition, to continue the enhanced focus on student success, the System will, through a mixture of normal attrition and active restructuring and reimagining of the DEI function, realign over two academic years at least 33% of the above-referenced roles that are currently filled (or at least 43 positions) to areas with a primary focus on academic and student success.
The "position cap" proposal also had a ton of loopholes in it.
The position cap will not apply to faculty. It also will not apply to instructional and other staff who spend at least 75% of their time working directly with students and/or patients, or whose research positions are funded at 75% or more by gifts or grants. In addition, the position cap will not apply to other positions funded by gifts, grants or contracts, positions related to outreach such as Extension provided that such positions are funded 75% or more by gifts, grants, or intergovernmental contracts, or to new positions necessary to address subsequently enacted or expanded state and/or federal compliance mandates. Part-time student employees, who gain both useful employment experience and whose employment helps fund their educational pursuits, would likewise be excluded.
And yet it got rejected anyway. I don't know if that's necessarily the smartest move, because I thought UW was going to make out fine in this deal, but it also could pay off.

Here's how I'm guessing this will play out in the coming weeks. Vos and a few other racist/dweeby GOPs will stamp their feet and claim that UW will now get nothing, at least for a few days. But the spotlight, pressure and anger will now also get turned back onto Vos, and everyday Wisconsinites hate that guy. Attention also needs to get put onto every other Legislative Republican that is allowing that dweeb to hold up these pay raises and hold up the Engineering Building and other facilities that the business people say they need to help the state compete for jobs and talent.

I've heard some dumb right-wingers in social media try to claim this deal "saves money". How so? It gave hundreds of millions for building projects (good investments, but not it's note a savings in the short term), and allowed for the pay raises to go through. Oh, do they think that UW employees will go through the year with no pay raise and that'll be a major taxpayer savings? Well, I got a little secret for those guys - the money is already allocated!

The UW's salary additions are lumped together with other statewide employees in an allocation known as the Compensation Reserves. And that was already fully-funded and signed into law in the state budget.

So what's stopping UW from using the money that it already has and giving the 4% pay raises on their own? As we've seen many a time in the last 20 years, rules and customs have little enforcement power. Sure, it's not great PR with the Legislature, but maybe it's time to say "Screw those clowns. What are they going to do to us anyway?" Evers isn't going to let the Legislature screw over the UW in funding, and the GOPs don't have the numbers (or public support) to override any of his vetoes.

It's high-level poker to be sure, and if I was a Regent, I might have taken Vos's deal while crossing my fingers behind my back on the DEI and positions. But I also think there are enough Regents and others that have simply had enough of Little Napoleon and the rest of the anti-UW WisGOPs, and figure they may as well be seen as fighting for their students and their campus culture.

And that may well be a gamble that pays off. You thought Republicans were toxic in college towns and among the college-educated before this idiocy? Apparently there are new depths for them to comb! And the new maps are coming, kids....


  1. I dug a bit more into how the Comp Reserves get handed out, and it's something that happens every year, with a request similar to what was done in late June for Fiscal Year 2023. This sends the money for the pay increases to various agencies, unless vetoed by the Joint Finance Committee.

    In theory, there's nothing stopping UW from "floating" their employees on current money for their raises, and then by the time we get to Summer, things may already be agreed to. The risk is that the gerrymandered GOP blocks the extra funding for pay increases for UW (and maybe everyone else). But with a $4 billion surplus, I don't see what would stop from having enough funds to withstand that....or at least make the GOP be seen as turning it down a few months before an election.

    That's also risky, but if you think the voters will back you up on going around the GOP, it also may well be worth it. I'd press the issue and tell UW employees they're getting their raises on Jan. 1 whether JCOER or the JFC likes it or not.


  2. Thank you, Jake, for writing about this issue. Yes, the deal Rothman cut didn't really cut DEI positions. It was wickedly smart that way. Still, it gave a symbolic win for Vos and his associated RW's. Before the Regents nixed the deal, Vos was crowing about how he was turning the tide nationwide on DEI. Why give him even a symbolic win and let him play the hero to his howling horde? Why cave to him now and let him come back later to try to extort something else? The 4% raise would come to me, but there have been years when UW employees did not get any raises (while that punk Walker also cut benefits). At least this time not getting a raise would serve a higher cause and have a righteous effect.

  3. Thanks for that perspective. I certainly am in agreement that a good amount of the rejection of the deal comes down to looking at Vos and saying "F*ck that guy. We are not letting that dweeb get over on us again."

    Which makes you wonder why Assembly GOPs continue to follow Robbin' right off the cliff when he does this arrogant Napoleon act. Especially with new maps looming.