Idaho Republicans’ attacks on Boise State University will only hurt state in the end

·4 min read
Darin Oswald/doswald@idahostatesman.com

A new report from ProPublica and the Chronicle of Higher Education raises serious alarms about the pressures being placed on Boise State University from the far right wing of the Idaho Republican Party.

The story documents the battle that’s been going on now for close to three years, just before Boise State President Marlene Tromp took office.

It lays out the publicly known and highly publicized squabbles over diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that have transpired over the past three years, going back to the first harbinger in 2019 over a memo detailing the university’s diversity efforts written by interim president Martin Schimpf, before Tromp even stepped foot in office.

The article is appropriately titled “The Other Cancel Culture, How a Public University Is Bowing to a Conservative Crusade.”

That’s because the story documents steps the university has taken that appear to appease right-wing legislators and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

The article rightly connects what’s going on at Boise State with what’s happening across the country.

Because it’s not just Idaho.

The so-called “conservative” movement is on the attack against alleged indoctrination in public schools, especially higher education, the supposed teaching of critical race theory, allegedly obscene materials in library, transgender rights, even gay rights in its crusade against what it calls “woke” culture.

Triggered by the culture war emergency du jour, “critical race theory,” Idaho’s Republican legislators have cast a wide net, to include anything having to do with diversity, equity or inclusion, somehow conflating that with the idea that it is all part of some Marxist takeover of the United States.

The attacks leave Tromp walking a fine line between trying to execute her vision for a world-class, high-quality institution in Idaho and appeasing right-wing legislators who want to dismantle programs they don’t agree with and dictate to Tromp how she should run the school.

The last thing Boise State needs is a reputation as a university that takes orders from the right wing of the Republican Party.

Also concerning is the impact this could have on recruiting faculty who might view Boise State specifically and Idaho more generally as too toxic of a place to work.

There are already signs.

According to the article, a candidate for Boise State president bowed out after researching state politics. “I felt my values may not be shared by the governance structures in Idaho,” she said, according to the article. “I didn’t want to have those fights.”

Other job applicants for other positions looked at the politics of Idaho and withdrew their applications, according to the article. Republican legislators apparently also successfully scuttled Tromp’s effort to hire a vice provost for diversity.

If anything, Idaho legislators should be championing Boise State’s efforts, as the fortunes of this growing capital city and state are tied to the success of Idaho’s top-tier university.

The most recent study, done in 2018, of the economic impact of Boise State University showed the university and its alumni drove nearly $1.9 billion of economic activity in Idaho in fiscal year 2015. That means that for every $1 the state allocated to Boise State, the university returned $8 in economic activity, according to the analysis. When the contributions and impact of Boise State alumni were included, that benefit tripled to $24.

The study also found that close to 68% of Boise State graduates stay in Idaho, and alumni living in Idaho in 2015 contributed approximately $1.2 billion to the state’s economy that year alone.

Industry leaders have credited Boise State and its programs as leading drivers in their decisions to move to or expand in Idaho’s largest city, according to the study.

Those industry leaders, we will point out, all have their own diversity, equity and inclusion programs, recognizing the importance of such efforts. What message does that send to them when legislators chastise our own universities and seek to defund them over these same efforts?

The message should be loud and clear to legislators who attack and withhold funding from our universities over the boogeyman of critical race theory.

Lay off.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members Johanna Jones, Maryanne Jordan and Ben Ysursa.

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