$1 Billion Price Tag Put on UW-Madison’s Minority Programs

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s new 2020 Diversity Plan, described in her July 8, 2020 blog entry, is more disturbing than suggested by the bland front-page headline: “Blank targets racial climate” (since retitled “National unrest sparks new efforts by UW-Madison to improve campus climate”).

The chancellor’s array of proposed new “commitments” to diversity reflects her response to recent Black Lives Matter protests and demands from students of all colors, as well as some faculty and staff. She confesses that her response also reflects some personal guilt about benefiting from “white privilege.” This no doubt accounts for the selection of the keynote speaker for the fall 2020 Diversity Forum: Robin DiAngelo, author of The New York Times “best seller,” White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. (For a preview of DiAngelo’s approach, readers can read the book reviews, including a long essay analyzing her flawed dissertation research on which her book, and the term “white fragility” itself, is based.)

Chancellor Blank’s view on these matters is no reason to divert UW-Madison from its long-standing mission of sifting and winnowing in the search for knowledge to a new focus on social engineering, including the reduction of racial inequalities and the promotion of “social justice.” Her intended diversion should be of concern to all faculty and staff, as well as students. Her proposals will solidify the already-entrenched diversity bureaucracy that is now centered in the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement. Its staff are being given authority to “train” students, student leaders, staff members, and the faculty on a wide range of diversity-related topics, such as culture, identity, difference, race, inclusion, marginalization, inclusive community-building skills, implicit bias, micro aggressions, stereotypes, and on and on.

Consider first the chancellor’s concern about the need for a more welcoming campus climate. She fails to recognize that this problem arises in part because non-minority students resent the preferential treatment given to minority student applicants during admission. This resentment is compounded by the many minority student programs created to assist these students after enrollment. Non-minority students and their families are not fooled by the supposed neutrality of “holistic” admission standards. The widely used term “targeted minorities” is a dead giveaway, and its use is demeaning as well.

Chancellor Blank also provides no convincing evidence that any of her proposed “commitments” are able to deal effectively with these larger social problems, or that the “training” will be effective in promoting a more welcoming campus climate. She refers to a list of fifty briefly described, ongoing minority student programs, labeled as “diversity and inclusion” programs. But what effect have any of these programs had in making the UW-Madison campus a more welcoming place for minority students? If any of them have been successful, we surely would have heard about that by now. Nor does the chancellor tell us anything about how many staff members, many of them minorities, are employed in managing these programs. While admitting her new “commitments” will require more resources, she says nothing about the cost of either her new programs or the long list of existing programs.

The rest of her plan does not make sense. How likely will a new batch of programs be to achieve what the many already-operating minority student programs have not been able to? Interviews conducted among black students reveal their skepticism that these new “commitments” will produce any substantial change. And the faculty should be greatly concerned about the effects of these “training” programs on academic freedom and freedom of expression. So should students.

The chancellor’s list of new “commitments” will almost certainly be expanded, following the issuance of two new demands by UW-Madison athletes. One, purely symbolic, is to change from white to black the large “W” on all athletic team uniforms. The second is to establish a special $2 million scholarship program for “students of color,” apparently referring to a new designation for such students who are now labeled BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color). Further demands may be coming from student athletes. Based on her past actions in dealing with black student demands, we can expect Chancellor Blank to quickly include further agenda items in her “commitments.”

On September 2, a petition signed by more than 2,500 individuals, “BIPOC Demands for the University of Wisconsin-Madison” argues that, despite past efforts, UW has failed “to provide an inclusive campus environment that offers adequate support and protection for marginalized students.”

The ten demands in the petition cater to each of the BIPOC-allied groups. Among them are the following: Replace the Lincoln Monument in front of Bascom Hall with someone who stands for “justice for all,” adopt the Teaching Assistant plan for resuming instruction, defund and then abolish the UW police force, see that all student demands from 1969 to 2020 are met, implement permanent funding to support student organizations that serve marginalized groups, create an organized framework to respond to  acts of oppression, and improve the support system for marginalized students. Several top UW-Madison officials have already indicated they plan to meet and work with students on these demands.

Most members of the university community are unaware of either the multitude of programs that serve minority students or the substantial costs of operating the many existing minority student programs. Estimating their annual costs is difficult because, several years ago, now-retired University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross terminated the collection and publication of minority program expenditure data. Nevertheless, I have been able to construct a rough estimate of UW-Madison minority program expenditures for 2019-20, an estimate that includes several groups of expenditures not included in past state-mandated expenditure reports.

Estimated undergraduate minority student program expenditures for 2019-20 amount to approximately $50 million. Based on the fall 2019 targeted minority enrollment of 4,807, UW-Madison is this year spending an average of over $10,000 for each targeted minority student on programs “to promote diversity and inclusion.” Most of these costs go toward paying the non-faculty staff who manage these programs. The $50 million estimate excludes several major costs, most notably those of hiring minority faculty and staff, students meeting the one-semester Ethnic Studies Requirement, and the Admissions Office applying the “holistic” admissions process to the more than 42,000 applicants for fall 2020 entry to UW-Madison.

If my analysis, based on what data are available, is sufficiently accurate, and if the admission and enrollment of approximately one quarter of targeted minority students can be attributed to the “holistic” admissions policy, then the spending on any minority student who might not otherwise have been admitted (on the basis of their academic records) jumps to approximately $40,000 per student per academic year.

Another approach to calculate the costs of minority student programs is to cumulate the annual costs of these programs over the span of years when minority program expenditure data were collected, going back to the mid-1980s, and then adding my cost estimates for the several most recent years. The cumulative cost of past minority student programs, adjusted for inflation, is approximately $1,000,000,000. This surprisingly large total, like that of the 2019-20 estimate, excludes the same three categories of other minority student program expenditures. In recent years, the estimated costs of minority programs have continued to increase despite deep cuts in the UW-Madison budget.

One reason for such heavy diversity expenditures is the need to provide academic and related services to a number of targeted minority students admitted under the UW “holistic” admissions policy. These students tend to be less prepared academically than most other admits. Here is a paradox: The policy to increase minority enrollment by adopting a “holistic” admissions process creates the need for additional minority programs to deal with the unanticipated (or simply ignored) side effects of that policy.

The presumed effectiveness of minority student programs has not been verified, a problem that remains unsolved even as UW-Madison continues to maintain financial aid programs, such as the Lawton Undergraduate Minority Retention Grants, that limit eligibility based on race, ethnicity, and national origin.

Not so incidentally, this grant on its face is in direct violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits such discrimination, as would the $2 million scholarship proposal by UW-Madison student athletes, a plan that restricts eligibility to “students of color”. These are but specific instances of such violation—one might legitimately indict the entire diversity program on such a ground.

UW-Madison officials know that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discrimination inherent in such programs. They have known this for more than fifteen years, ever since March 2005, when I filed a complaint about these violations to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Somehow, UW lawyers have fought off OCR attempts to rule on the validity of my complaints. Chancellor Blank’s proposed $10 million fund to recruit a more “diverse” group of students, faculty, and staff looks as if its funding will be restricted to ethnic minorities, thereby discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin. If implemented, this program will be another violation of Title VI—unless UW lawyers can again find a way to deflect application of the law.

Every new racialist crisis generates a demand for more minority student programs, a demand gladly met by the woke campus administration. New programs are piled on old ones, making it impossible to know what works and what doesn’t—and providing scant evidence that any of them do. This all comes at an outlandish monetary cost, to say nothing of its betrayal of the university’s central mission: the disinterested search for knowledge, not the ideological pursuit of social engineering.


Image: Wikimedia, Public Domain

W. Lee Hansen

W. Lee Hansen

W. Lee Hansen is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds an undergraduate degree in International Relations from the UW-Madison, a Master’s in Economics from the UW-Madison, and a Ph.D. in Political Economy from Johns Hopkins University

6 thoughts on “$1 Billion Price Tag Put on UW-Madison’s Minority Programs

  1. I am embarrassed to say that I earned two degrees from UW. Admittedly, these were earned half a century ago when the University still believed in sifting and winnowing.

  2. The social justice madness afflicting our universities and so many other institutions is diverting them from their core goals and wasting scads of money in the process. University administrators seem to have swallowed the Marxist line that differences of any kind (such as admissions to universities) reflect discrimination and nothing else – and throw money at problems that may not exist to meet the demands of social justice activists who will never be satisfied. It’s time for universities to get back to doing teaching and research and get out of the business of social engineering.

  3. The big clue here is the school stopped collecting and publishing its “diversity and inclusion” expenditures. Red flag. This is nakedly their cloaking device to hide the elephant in the room. I’m shocked this is even allowed at a public funded school. This makes them impervious to audit and fraud control measures. How is the legislature and attorney general ignoring this?

  4. Cumulating expenditures from the mid 80’s and then claiming UW is spending a billion dollars on diversity is kind of silly, and also misleading. I don’t like this stuff either, but argumentation like this isn’t helping.

    My bet would be something like 2% of additional funds are going into diversity at UW. Not nothing, but come on! The main objection to this stuff is not the cost. In fact, if it would actually solve the problems, it would be well worth it.

  5. “She confesses that her response also reflects some personal guilt about benefiting from “white privilege.”

    If Chancellor Blank suffers from “white privilege” (whatever that is), then she should resign. The problem? UW is a public university. She will be using taxpayer money to absolve herself of personal guilt.

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