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Compromise and commitment mark UW, state legislative agreement

December 8, 2023

Dec. 13 update: The Board of Regents voted 11-6 to adopt the package.

Dec. 9 update: The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted 9-8 against the proposal described below.

The following message was sent by Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin as an all-campus email on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. Translations of the message will be posted here soon. Check this link for additional updates in the coming days.

To our campus community,

I’m writing with updates related to the ongoing conversations with state legislative leadership about the critical priorities of the Universities of Wisconsin and UW–Madison. I have been an active participant in these conversations, which have been led by Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman.

Earlier today, President Rothman released a resolution that he is recommending to the Board of Regents for consideration and action on Saturday, Dec. 9. I am hopeful the various elements of the agreement will be supported by the Board of Regents, Governor Evers and the legislature.

I would encourage you to take a moment to read the entire document, which you can find in the Board of Regents meeting materials.

This document represents the culmination of a lengthy and difficult process that has played out publicly and privately over the past 6 months. I recognize that it has caused a great deal of stress and strain in our community.

In reaching this agreement, I want to assure you in no uncertain terms that we have upheld and continue to uphold our core values.

As a campus, we’ve spoken a lot about bridging divides, and the importance of working across difference. Nobody will look at this agreement and love every piece of it. However, this compromise allows us to hold onto our core value of diversity, our commitment to belonging for all our students, and our dedication to excellence.

I will briefly summarize the key elements of the resolution here:

Significantly, the agreement recognizes that Universities of Wisconsin employees are deserving of the pay raises approved in the state budget earlier this year but held up in a state legislative committee. The resolution requires that these raises be approved by December 31 and include back pay starting from July 1, 2023.

It also ensures approval for the much-needed engineering building, which was the number one capital priority of the Universities of Wisconsin this year and was broadly supported by business leaders across Wisconsin. The building will provide critical support for our teaching and research missions, and for our service to the state.

The Universities of Wisconsin and UW–Madison would also receive the restoration of $32 million that was cut from budgets this summer, needed updates and repairs to UW–Madison residence halls, and funding for utilities and other key building projects. Additionally, the agreement includes legislative approval of the tuition reciprocity bill that will allow the campus to keep the full tuition paid by students from Minnesota.

The resolution represents hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and a significant capital expenditure fundamental to our future and the future of Wisconsin and the state’s economy.

Under this resolution, DEI-focused positions would be preserved, but capped for a period of three years. In addition, about 40 DEI positions throughout the System, including some here at UW–Madison, will be reimagined to direct their primary focus to academic and student success, which is of course already an important focus. For some employees, this could include a change in job title or a modification to a job description. I want to emphasize that no positions will be cut.

Similarly, the Universities of Wisconsin would institute a System-wide cap on administrative positions hiring for three years beginning Jan. 1, 2024. This agreement exempts a number of key areas—including faculty, student- and patient-facing staff roles, and gift and grant funded positions. While this will require us to be attentive to administrative growth, it is crafted in a manner that will allow us to continue to be able to hire the employees we need to accomplish our mission.

Also, the System would support potential legislation under which, beginning in 2025, UW–Madison would admit the top 5% of graduates from Wisconsin high schools, based on their GPA ranking. (Other Universities of Wisconsin institutions would admit the top 10%.)

There are additional facets and details of the proposal which are reflected in the resolution document, which I encourage you to read.

As the leader of this campus, I assure you that we remain fully committed to diversity, inclusion and belonging. This agreement, should it move forward, does not lessen or retreat from that commitment. I want to be clear that we will continue to serve students of all backgrounds, including those underserved by higher education, and those who hold a broad range of beliefs and ideologies. Working to ensure belonging for all of our students must and will continue as a key priority.  And we remain focused on our faculty and staff whose work, research, teaching, and service contribute to the diversity of UW–Madison.

Finally, I want to offer reassurance that this agreement represents a recognition of the role that UW–Madison and the Universities of Wisconsin play in helping to move Wisconsin forward. We could not achieve all that we do and make our contribution to the state without our hardworking and talented students, faculty and staff. President Rothman and I are hopeful this agreement can help reset our relationship with the legislature for the future.

We will continue to share details as elements of this agreement are approved and implemented.