By The Associated Press

Wisconsin State Journal. October 8, 2023.

Editorial: Give UW its pay raise, stop micromanaging campus

An engineering professor in Platteville.

A student counselor in Whitewater.

A crops and soils expert in Dodge County.

These are just a few of the 41,000 University of Wisconsin System employees waiting for top Republican lawmakers to release their 4% raise.

The GOP-run Legislature already approved a state budget in June with $92 million to cover the 4% pay increase this year, plus a 2% bump next year. The 4% annual hike is only slightly higher than inflation, which is 3.7%. And UW System employees received just 2% raises in recent years when inflation was more than double that.

So the money is easily justified — if only Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, would get out of the way.

Vos recently warned he’ll block the raises as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations. The GOP controls the committee, which typically votes to release the funds shortly after the budget is signed in July.

Vos says he won’t relent unless UW System does his political bidding. Vos insists UW must eliminate all of its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices on campuses across the state.

Vos previously withheld $32 million from the System with the same demand, which UW officials wisely rejected. Now Vos is doubling down by targeting not just DEI positions but all System employees for punishment.

The System shouldn’t cave to Vos’ meddling. UW schools are right to encourage more diversity among the student body and faculty, and to make sure everyone feels welcome.

Vos’ showboating attempt to micromanage 13 universities across 26 campuses isn’t just costing hardworking staff the raises they’ve earned. It’s also sending a terrible message to the rest of the nation that Wisconsin is quick to punish its universities and hostile to their melting pots of people and ideas.

More reasonable Republicans on the committee, such as Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green and Rep. Mark Born of Beaver Dam, should remind Vos that Wisconsin is experiencing a workforce shortage. Picking high-profile political fights with campuses that attract and keep young talent in the state won’t help fill jobs or invigorate our economy.

Wisconsin is graying fast. The percentage of the state’s population that’s 60 and older increased from 19% to 25% in just the past decade. Wisconsin needs a modern approach to fostering effective workplaces — one that corporate America has largely embraced and benefited from.

Diversity, equity and inclusion programs — in the public and private sectors — help bridge cultural differences by avoiding misunderstandings that can lead to bias. They allow people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds — including the disabled and veterans — to feel comfortable and thrive in places that too often have been discriminatory, whether intended or not.

Diversity, equity and inclusion offices on UW campuses are typically led by highly successful people of color who serve as role models and advocates for underrepresented groups. They help recruit and retain diverse students and staff. DEI offices also help ensure hiring practices are fair.

And when controversial issues related to race do flare on campus, DEI leaders can be instrumental in pulling people together and cooling tension.

Vos’ war of words against DEI mirrors the talking points of Republican presidential candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Critics claim campus diversity efforts amount to liberal indoctrination that discounts hard work and success.

They’re wrong, and they rarely offer specific examples to back up their partisan suspicions. In fact, UW System bent over backward last year to ensure conservative speech isn’t trampled on campuses across the state by conducting a free speech survey. It highlighted the importance of allowing a diversity of views.

Everyone on campus deserves access to opportunities. Everyone deserves to be engaged and encouraged.

Diversity, equity and inclusion offices help make that happen. They shouldn’t be sacrificed to satisfy Vos’ political demands. Nor should they be twisted into an excuse to stop a modest raise for university workers — many of whom live in the communities Republicans represent.