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Regents support legislative compromise resolution

December 14, 2023

The UW System Board of Regents on Wednesday, Dec. 13, approved an agreement between the Universities of Wisconsin and state legislative leadership that moves forward critical priorities of UW campuses across Wisconsin, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The board approved the agreement by an 11-6 vote, following a vote on Saturday, Dec. 9, in which the agreement was initially narrowly rejected. The Dec. 13 vote paves the way for the plan to be enacted, though many of the items within the agreement require additional approval or implementation, a process that will stretch into early 2024.

Following months of negotiations, leaders settled on terms that include releasing by Dec. 31 a previously approved 4% pay raise for Universities of Wisconsin employees, retroactive to July 1, 2023, as well as a 2% increase planned for July 1, 2024.

In addition, the Universities will receive $32 million in state funding that was withheld by legislators in the recent state budget process, updates and repairs to residence halls at UW–Madison and an educational building at UW-Whitewater and funding for other critical infrastructure around the state.

Following approval by the legislature and governor, UW–Madison would also receive $197 million toward a new engineering building, widely supported by business leaders across Wisconsin to serve the state’s workforce needs. This was the No. 1 legislative priority of the UW System.

Both UW–Madison and the Universities of Wisconsin are hopeful the various elements of the agreement will be supported by the full legislature and Governor Evers.

In response, Chancellor Mnookin shared the following statement:

“I want to thank every member of the Board of Regents for the thoughtful engagement that they have brought to their consideration of the issues we face and to their difficult but important conversations. Compromise is never easy, and this compromise is far from perfect, but I continue to believe this pathway will permit us to hold onto our core values – including our firm commitments to diversity and belonging – while also allowing us to move forward.

“Moving forward includes ensuring our hard-working employees receive their approved pay increases, especially critical in these inflationary times; funding the engineering building to allow us to grow and meet the state’s demonstrated workforce needs; and making much-needed infrastructure investments to address facility issues that have been deferred for far too long.
“At the same time, we can and must remain steadfast in our commitment to serving students of all backgrounds, including those underserved by higher education, and those who hold a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. We must also continue to seek ways we can further improve this work to best serve our underrepresented communities.”

UW System President Jay Rothman said, “I thank the Board of Regents for approving this agreement that will deliver more than $800 million in projects, initiatives and withheld pay to our employees. Given the circumstances, this is good for our students, our universities and the state of Wisconsin. Compromise can be extraordinarily difficult, and I acknowledge that not everyone will be happy. Significant priorities that will benefit our students are in this agreement.”

The agreement also includes legislative approval of a revised tuition reciprocity bill that will allow all tuition dollars paid by Minnesota-resident students to flow to Universities of Wisconsin campuses, rather than to the state’s general fund, where some of those dollars have historically been directed.

The Universities agreed to several steps requested by legislators, including a temporary cap on DEI-related positions and realigning, over the next two years, about 40 DEI positions throughout the Universities of Wisconsin to focus more directly on academic and student success. This may include changes in job titles or job descriptions. However, no positions will be cut under the agreement.

Similarly, the Universities of Wisconsin would institute a system-wide cap on hiring administrative positions for three years beginning Jan. 1, 2024. Several key areas are exempted from the cap, including faculty, student- and patient-facing roles and positions funded primarily by gifts and grants. The caps are system-wide, which means open positions on one campus can be shifted to others to meet needs.

UW will also support potential legislation under which 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%.) This represents a renewed commitment to Wisconsin’s top scholars from all over the state and signals that there is a place for them at UW–Madison.

Additional facets and details of the proposal are reflected in the resolution document and include:

  • UW–Madison will seek philanthropic support to create an endowed chair, through a national search, on conservative political thought or a similar field.
  • UW–Madison will not renew its Target of Opportunity Program focused on hiring faculty from diverse groups that are not well represented within their discipline; instead, it will create a new program to seek faculty with expertise and demonstrated success supporting underrepresented students.
  • The Universities of Wisconsin will develop a module on freedom of expression for entering undergraduate students.

Additional information about the implementation of the resolution will be shared with campus as it is available in the coming weeks.