Legislators Say University Of Wyoming 'Flipping The Bird' At People Of Wyoming

Rep. Jeanette Ward said the University of Wyoming is "flipping the bird" at the people of Wyoming by deciding to keep some diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at the school despite the legislature pulling funding for them.

Clair McFarland

March 22, 20245 min read

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, left, and Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper
Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, left, and Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

“This is just one more example of how the University of Wyoming thumbs its nose at the state Legislature,” said Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, in a Friday text to Cowboy State Daily in response to University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel saying UW doesn’t plan to cut diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming altogether.

Steinmetz said Wyoming residents “overwhelmingly” disfavor education programs with a DEI focus, and UW continuing the programs “is not serving the citizens of Wyoming, or our students seeking a four-year degree.”

Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, sponsored a mirroring version of Steinmetz’s amendment on the House side. The House rejected Ward’s amendment, but later adopted Steinmetz’s matching iteration of it during its compromise process.

“Our sole land grant university, funded by taxpayers, should return to serious academic inquiry and refrain from ignoring the will of those who pay its bills,” said Ward in a Friday text to Cowboy State Daily. “The people of Wyoming, through their elected representatives, have spoken, and the university has chosen to flip them the bird.”

Both Steinmetz and Ward indicated harsher measures in the future, with Steinmetz saying the Legislature should no longer supply UW’s budget in the flexible, block-grant form, but should switch to a more tightly regulated budget.

Ward hinted at something similar, saying the “people of Wyoming … will take further steps to bring it in line with the intentions of those paying the bills.”

Gov. Mark Gordon could still veto the budget line. He has until midnight Saturday to do so.

Will Comply Though

UW countered in a Friday statement, saying it will comply with the budget amendment, though it may also look to alternate funding sources.

The budget amendment passed in the recent legislative session does not ban DEI programs altogether. It only cuts $1.7 million in state funding for them.

“No funds from this appropriation shall be expended on the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Wyoming or on any diversity, equity and inclusion program, activity or function,” says the amendment in this year’s biennial budget.

The university is reviewing its programs to see which fall under the DEI umbrella before making any decisions about which to cut or change, Chad Baldwin, UW spokesman, told Cowboy State Daily in a Friday email. The email, a response to the criticisms of Steinmetz and Ward, reiterated statements university leaders made at a Thursday meeting of the UW Board of Trustees.

The university could seek private money or other revenue sources to support its programs, Baldwin recounted from Seidel’s Thursday statements.

Yet, “President Seidel also said he recognizes that the Legislature represents the people of Wyoming,” Baldwin continued. “And the university will work to be responsive to the concerns expressed by legislators during the past session.”

Seidel is scheduled to bring his review of the programs to the board at its May meeting, which may prompt board action at that time.

‘And I’m Hopeful’

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, is still hoping Gordon vetoes the defunding footnote, he told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

“I’m hopeful the governor will hear that chorus of voices and understand the issues presented and take action himself so the university doesn’t have to go to these extreme (fund-seeking) lengths to maintain the integrity of our program," said Rothfuss, who is a UW Honors College faculty member.

Still, he was heartened during Thursday’s meeting that the trustees took the time to hear voluminous public testimony.

More than 100 attendees flooded the event — an irregularity for trustee meetings.

It would take a lot of work and outside funding to make up the money for the programs, he added.

Steinmetz acknowledged that UW can honor the budget amendment without cutting programs if it gets outside funding, but she said that would be "skirting the legislative intent" of the amendment. 

Not Promoting Based On Race, President Says

Seidel said Thursday that people may have inaccurate perceptions of DEI programs.

For example, he said UW does not promote people or admit undergraduate students based on race.

Both actions would be unconstitutional.

“We are more about access, and about success,” said Seidel. “We are not about that.”

In that case, UW will need to inform Wyoming residents to “build that bridge,” said Megan Degenfelder, state superintendent of Public Instruction.

More talk unfolded Thursday about national perceptions maligning Wyoming DEI programs.

Rothfuss said DEI detractors – not necessarily bad actors – are perpetuating the more hyperbolic perceptions.

“I don’t think there’s any magical university out there that isn’t trying to do what we’re trying to do,” he said. “Which is just to support the students of the university and give everyone the opportunity to learn in a safe and secure environment.”

According to the American Psychological Association, DEI aims for the inclusion of all, especially social groups that have been "historically underrepresented."

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter