Republicans Score Major Win Against DEI In A 'Purple' State

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by Tyler Durden
Saturday, Jan 13, 2024 - 07:00 PM

Authored by Darlene McCormick Sanchez via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

In the 2000 movie “Gladiator,” the soldier Maximus understands the strategic advantage of sticking with allies and refusing to back down during an iconic fight scene in the Roman Colosseum.

With the odds stacked against them, Maximus—played by Russell Crowe—and fellow gladiators hold their ground against opponents to win their battle despite long odds.

It’s a lesson not lost on at least one Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin, who wielded legislation to slash Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs in the University of Wisconsin (UW) system. He finally claimed victory in December after a seven-month battle.

Wisconsin is considered a “purple” state politically—a mix of blue, with its Democratic governor, and red, with the Republican-controlled state assembly and senate.

That’s why some are saying Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pulled off such a major victory for conservatives despite a challenging political climate. His prize: getting the state’s university system to remove many DEI positions and practices.

In response to Mr. Vos’s maneuvers in negotiating the passage of the state budget in May, UW leaders agreed to remove a third of the system’s 188 DEI positions.

Additionally, UW officials also said they‘d freeze DEI hiring for three years. They said they’d eliminate DEI loyalty statements for new hires. The pledges require new employees to promise to support DEI ideology and give preference to minority or identity groups said to have been oppressed.

UW trustees also voted to phase out minority-focused recruitment and replace it with recruitment based on accomplishment. They promised to incorporate merit in student admissions, automatically accepting the top 10 percent of students in high schools based on grades and class rank. And they agreed to add an endowed chair to focus on conservative political thought.

In exchange, UW got money for salary raises and new buildings.

“The one thing that I have learned, the more I’ve done this, is that I have total respect for people who fight for the conservative cause,” Mr. Vos told The Epoch Times, after persuading UW trustees to make the changes, an effort that took months of negotiations and was initially voted down.  

“But I have a lot more respect for people who win.”

Decimating Campus DEI

Critics contend DEI is a form of Marxism that divides people into identity groups of oppressors and their victims.

Supporters of DEI policies say they’re needed to right the wrongs of what they believe to be systemic racism in America by giving preferential treatment to minority groups.

Mr. Vos, who has been the speaker for about 12 years, said some people scoffed when he told them DEI was the top issue for his state. He’s felt that DEI policies in the university system led to students being “indoctrinated,” rather than educated.

“People also don’t fully appreciate how this is like a cancer,” Mr. Vos said of DEI, which has spread to universities around the country. “It’s the worst possible thing for our democracy.”

Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly Robin Vos (Courtesy of Robin Vos)

Mr. Vos and fellow GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin used a carrot-and-stick approach to getting the two-year state budget passed, including measures that would mean doom for DEI on university campuses in the state.

During budget negotiations, Republicans slashed $32 million from the university system’s budget, about what they calculated was the funding needed to support DEI programs.

Gov. Tony Evers threatened to veto the entire state budget because of the cuts to DEI. But that would mean no raises for any state employees.

He called Republicans’ efforts “really obnoxious” and “B.S.” He signed the budget in July.

But a Republican-controlled committee still needed to approve the raises before going into effect. Mr. Vos warned that the committee would not approve pay raises for UW employees until receiving assurance that DEI would be cut from the university system.

That left the decision up to UW officials. If they wanted to secure the pay raises, they'd have to agree to eliminate DEI.

Mr. Vos recalled telling the UW leadership, “I am dead serious. We are not giving you one nickel until we negotiate and make changes to DEI.”

After months of wrangling, university system leaders were forced to choose—pay raises for their employees or the preservation of DEI on campuses.

They chose to boost salaries for employees in exchange for axing much of DEI.

Lawmakers of the Black Caucus issued a statement saying they were “appalled and ashamed” at the diversity changes and questioned whether racial minorities were involved in the negotiations.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, speaks to supporters during an election night event at The Orpheum Theater in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

Conservatives point to Mr. Vos’s tactics as a blueprint for how Republicans should unite and use the so-called “power of the purse” to eliminate what they see as divisive policies from public institutions.

The process showed Mr. Vos is a “master” legislator, said GianCarlo Canaparo, a senior legal fellow in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

He just played the levels of power in that state like a fiddle,” Mr. Canaparo told The Epoch Times.

“I think what happened in Wisconsin shows why Republican legislators need to use the powers they have more than they are [using them currently], even if they don’t completely control state government,” said William Jacobson, a Cornell law school professor.

Mr. Jacobson formed in response to DEI-fueled discrimination in education against whites and others. DEI is a form of “racial discrimination,” supported by a small group of activists, he said.

It’s not a popular idea with most people, Mr. Jacobson said. And in his view, cutting off funding for campus DEI programs is the best way to dismantle them.

“Because when push comes to shove, college administrators and college professors and university systems care more about the money than they care about DEI,” Mr. Jacobson said.

‘Stand for What You Believe’

The Wisconsin speaker’s plan to take down DEI in his state’s university system began forming when he heard troubling stories about how hallmarks of the ideology were affecting constituents, he said.

One told him that students had to write essays on politically left-wing topics to get into the state’s colleges. Another informed him that the universities no longer required scores from entrance exams for admission.

Mr. Vos bristled when he learned that some high schools in his state were removing acknowledgments of merit by doing away with grades or class rankings for students.

Concerns about DEI at the state’s universities had been growing, he said.

And a recent survey showed a worrisome lack of free speech on one of the campuses.

Yet, when he raised concerns about those issues with university system leadership, they ignored him, he said.

“And frankly,” he said, “they kind of were arrogant and thought they could just go around me.”

Meanwhile, he said, university leaders began making their wish list known to his colleagues. Namely, they wanted raises and new buildings, especially a new engineering building at the system’s flagship campus in Madison, he said.

New College of Florida students and supporters protest against the removal of DEI policies ahead of a meeting by the college's board of trustees in Sarasota on Feb. 28, 2023. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo)

But Mr. Vos rallied Republicans, urging them to stand firm, as they hatched a plan.

Mr. Vos wanted to negotiate for legislative control over the creation of positions within the state universities. And he wanted to require universities to base student admissions on scores from standardized entrance exams again.

It was then that university leaders “realized that things were going to have to be different if they were going to have any chance to get the money that they wanted” for pay raises and new buildings, Mr. Vos said.

That made conditions right for negotiating.

In December, UW officials agreed to cut DEI policies, and Republicans agreed to fund the wanted pay raises and release the money needed for building projects within the UW system. That included money for the new engineering building initially rejected by the GOP.

Republicans also agreed to authorize $32 million for workforce development within the UW system.

They didn’t get standardized test scores returned to the admissions process.

But they did maneuver to get merit back into education.

School systems in Wisconsin and across the country have attempted to eliminate the awarding of letter grades to students and have, in many cases, eliminated testing.

Those traditions that elevate individuals based on their achievements don’t fit the DEI concepts. Acknowledging merit is seen by proponents of DEI as part of an oppressive system that hurts minorities.

As part of the deal-making in Wisconsin, the university system agreed to automatically admit the top 5 percent of graduating high school seniors to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class would be admitted automatically to any of the other 12 college campuses in the system.

“We want the smartest, best people on the front lines of everything from science to technology,” Mr. Vos said. It should not, he said, be “based on your race.”

Proponents of affirmative action hold signs during a protest at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on July 1, 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

As a result of those victories, parents of high school students will be empowered to demand a return to the awarding of grades and the assigning of class rankings, Mr. Vos said.

The outcomes illustrate that “you just have to be tenacious,” he said. “You have to stand for what you believe in and accept the fact that you’re not going to get everything.

But if you play it right, you have the ability to get more than they want to give.

For Republicans, the “more” was the promise to create an endowed chair at the flagship university in Madison. The position will focus on conservative political thought, classical economic theory, or classical liberalism.

Additionally, university system leaders agreed to develop and implement on all campuses a module to teach entering undergraduate students about freedom of expression.

Mr. Vos—who views himself as being on the “hard right” politically—said Republicans need to understand that in successful negotiations, getting much of what you want is better than getting nothing.

Florida and Texas have passed legislation banning DEI positions at universities.

But DEI is entrenched on most college campuses, Mr. Jacobson said.

So there’s still the possibility that DEI positions and programs that were supposed to be eliminated actually will be preserved, just with new names that sound different but represent the same purpose, he said.

But those who feel DEI is wrong for America must stand strong.

“It is the start of the fight against DEI,” Mr. Jacobson said. “It is not the end of the fight against it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.