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The Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted 11 to 6 Wednesday night to approve a deal to cut spending on diversity, equity and inclusion in exchange for $800 million in funds held hostage by state Republicans, reversing a first vote held last Saturday that rejected the deal 9 to 8. 

The green-lighted proposal will cap all DEI staff hires for three years, restructure and redefine the roles of one-third of the system’s current DEI staff, and freeze all administrative hires across the system, among other concessions. In exchange the UW system will receive $800 million in state funding, including long-frozen pay increases for employees and money for a new engineering building at UW Madison, that was voted down last month.

The about-face marks the latest twist in a saga that stretches back to June, when Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, used a procedural loophole to hold back $32 million in preapproved pay raises for UW employees after Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have cut the system’s DEI spending. A narrow majority voted to reject the deal just days ago.

Three regents, Amy Bogost, Karen Walsh and Jennifer Staton, changed their votes from no to yes; they cited pleas from system leaders who said the universities desperately needed the withheld funding.

“We have heard from all the chancellors and they have asked for our help,” Staton said at the meeting, according to local reports. “Right now I will place their needs above my own. They are the leaders of their campuses, and we have entrusted them with this leadership.”

The vote is a victory for Vos and his fellow Wisconsin Republicans, whose six-month standoff over DEI has finally produced results. It also represents a victory for UW president Jay Rothman and UW Madison chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, who had arranged and backed the deal and who faced blowback from all sides after the first vote failed. 

“I'm glad they approved the compromise tonight despite reported last-minute lobbying by Gov Evers to scuttle the deal,” Vos tweeted. “Republicans know this is just the first step in what will be our continuing efforts to eliminate these cancerous DEI practices on UW campuses.”

For state Democrats, the UW faculty union and student groups who have agitated against the deal for the past week, it’s a reversal of fortune almost as surprising as the board’s original no vote.