(NEW YORK)— The Wisconsin Legislature’s tactics that led the University of Wisconsin regents to freeze all diversity, equity and inclusion staffing until 2026 amount to “partisan bullying at its worst,” PEN America said today.

Jeremy C. Young, Freedom to Learn program director at PEN America, said: “What happened in the Wisconsin system is partisan bullying at its worst. Strong-arming university regents into following orders, withholding university funds to achieve ideological ends — this is not how you create an environment of intellectual freedom and free expression. University systems have every right to make decisions about DEI initiatives. But legislators threatening and punishing regents, faculty, and staff to promote the legislature’s ideology serves only one purpose: to create a climate of fear at universities that results in the silencing of ideas on campus.”

The university’s regents voted last week to accept a deal with legislators last week that forces the system to freeze all DEI staffing until 2026 and eliminate or restructure at least 43 jobs currently related to diversity. Five days earlier, the regents had rejected the same deal from the legislature, which was proposed during a monthslong standoff in which legislators refused to release funds for approved pay raises for 40,000 system employees, along with a new multimillion dollar engineering complex, unless DEI cuts were made. 

Between the two votes, Wisconsin Senate president President Chris Kapenga posted on social media: “You would think these Regents would have learned from the tone-deaf Ivy League leadership that was removed last week. It’s good to know before their upcoming Senate confirmation votes that several Regents chose their sacred ideology over getting our students ready for their careers.” In the aftermath of those comments, one of the unconfirmed regents switched their vote, providing the margin of victory for the deal.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057