‘Monolith Of Wokeness’: Senate Votes To Defund UW Gender Studies, Diversity Office

One of the most heated budget debates in the Wyoming Legislature on Wednesday was around amendments to defund the UW Diversity Office and Gender Studies program. Sen. Charlie Scott called the UW a “monolith of wokeness.”

Leo Wolfson

February 22, 20244 min read

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The Wyoming Senate passed an amendment to the biennial budget Wednesday prohibiting the University of Wyoming from using state money to fund its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or any diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program at the school.

It also passed another amendment prohibiting the school from using state money for its gender studies program.

The measure passed by a 20-11 vote. An identical measure was defeated in the House on a 35-27 vote.

In total, the proposed budget allocated $402 million to the University of Wyoming entering the legislative session. The amendment came with a stipulation to pull $1.7 million from that funding.

The amendment was proposed by state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who said the $1.7 million had previously been used to pay for the program.

The amendment also states that no state money can be used for similar programming at the school.

State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, supported the amendment, saying the office and similar programming highlights differences between people rather than honoring equality.

He also brought up his alma mater Harvard University, which he said has gone in a negative direction because of programs like this.

“This kind of program was the principal agent of introducing that rot, introducing a faculty that is without diversity of opinion, that is a monolith of wokeness,” he said. “We’re seeing this rot affect the University of Wyoming.”

Scott said he is now advising people against attending the school.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, spoke against the amendment. He said the DEI office is integral for helping international students acclimate to attending school in Wyoming.

“Trying to ensure that all of them feel safe, all of them feel welcome, all of them feel like they are a part of the university system and a valued part of that university system,” he said. “They don’t all when they arrive.”

Gender Studies

The Senate also passed an amendment by an 18-13 margin prohibiting the University of Wyoming from spending any general funds, federal funds or other money under its control for any gender studies courses or academic programs.

“I don’t think it’s right for the university to take sides on this issue and fund more of an ideology than a program,” Steinmetz said.

Some of the stated objectives of the program is to provide students with an understanding of social movements and social justice, the intersectional nature of feminist, LGBTQ+, racial, disability, environmental, immigration, labor, and economic justice movements, and translate feminist and social justice theories into service or activism.

Students can earn a Gender and Women’s Studies undergraduate major or minor degree, and a graduate degree minor in this field. Steinmetz said that about eight undergraduate students majored in this during the 2022-2023 school year.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, remarked that the school will soon change its nickname from the Cowboys to the “Social Justice Warriors.” He said legislators should approach funding from an economic perspective.

Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, opposed the proposal. He said the University of Wyoming should be a bastion of free thought.

“The bedrock of a university, Mr. President, is freedom of thought,” he said. “If you don’t choose to go to these classes, then don’t go.”

Others like Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said the move would hamper free speech.

“You are free to disagree with this programming, to disagree with the content of it, and so who are those students who are adults and choosing to take those courses,” she said.

She said the funding would not be shut off until current students in the program complete their studies.

Budget Highlights

The House was on pace to finish its $10.8 billion biennial budget discussions by around 1 a.m. Thursday as of publication late Wednesday.

Excluding withdrawn amendments, the House was scheduled to consider 86 budget amendments over the course of Wednesday, while the Senate was to consider 66.

Entering the day, the House had added $96 million in amendments to the general fund in spending, of which $40 million is dedicated to a 988 suicide hotline trust fund in the event a similar bill doesn’t pass. This bill had $30 million reduced from it on Tuesday.

Another $15 million is for the Wyoming Military Department to perform a land swap to improve the National Guard’s training practices.

The Senate added about $27 million to the general fund.

The differences between the two budgets will be ironed out in a joint conference committee that must finalize a report by March 4.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter