Memo to: Boise State University President Marlene Tromp:
Subject: Welcome to Idaho.
Here’s what you need to know:
l You are not on friendly terrain.
Get used to it. Here you are, two weeks on the job, and 28 House Republicans — including eight of the 15 House Education Committee members — laid down the law. BSU is going to follow the “Idaho way.”
And the “Idaho way” means there will be no attempt to diversify the campus population because expanding the parameters beyond students who are white, middle class, Republican, conservative and Christian is, well, bad for everyone who is white, middle class, Republican, conservative and Christian.
“This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students,” says the letter written by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, and signed by her colleagues. “These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now — and that BSU should redress these grievances.”
l Ehardt is out of her depth.
You’d think Ehardt, who embarrassed herself last winter by demanding a reform of public school sex education programs without first figuring out what’s already included in that curriculum, would have done a better job this time.
Had she checked in with other schools, she might have learned the modest effort at BSU — including programs celebrating underrepresented students, recruiting and retaining diversity and offering support services — is part of the academic mainstream.
Had she consulted with Idaho business and industry, Ehardt would have discovered that diversity in the workplace is a core value — because it leads to more profits in the global marketplace.
Had she talked to Idaho students, she might have discerned that attending school in a diversified student body is an asset — especially when you consider the workforce awaiting those students in a modern America.
l She’s woefully or willfully misinformed.
“As legislators, our constituents always ask us about the rapidly increasing cost of college tuition,” she wrote. “They rightly note that tuition hikes put degrees out of reach for the average Idaho student. The cost of college is a factor in some students dropping out. Yet, instead of looking to assist our students, Boise State is adding unnecessary costs.”
Talk about chutzpah.
The rise in student tuition — from about 5.1 percent of Idaho per capita incomes in 1981 to 17 percent today — cannot be blamed on an occasional fellowship for a minority graduate student here, a program honoring the achievement of underrepresented students there or a reasonable effort to buttress the success, or even safety, of others.
During more than four decades, Idaho legislators have treated higher education as their personal piggy bank — cutting budgets in bad times. Even when state revenues are robust, the appropriations fall short. This year, for instance, lawmakers refused to fully fund a cost-of-living increase for college and university employees. So two-thirds of the 4.9 percent boost in tuition BSU students face next fall was needed to cover that gap.
l She is not alone.
Many of those lawmakers joining Ehardt were darlings of the same Idaho Freedom Foundation that started this fracas. Last month, IFF President Wayne Hoffman complained in print about a “buffet of braggadocio about (BSU’s) reinforcement of the ‘otherization’ of students and staff.”
Among them are Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, John Green, R-Post Falls, Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, Thyra Stevenson, R-Nezperce, Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls.
You can take some comfort in who did not sign the letter: House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, House Education Committee Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, and not a single House member of the budget-writing committee, including, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.
Also notable in her absence was Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee — the only member of north central Idaho’s House delegation to refrain.
What should give you pause, however, is the presence of influential members, such as House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star. Also involved is state Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, who as a former State Board of Education and state charter school commission member, surely knows better.
l This may be more than a shot across the bow.
While stingy budgeting is the underbelly of higher education, there has been a bright side — an effort to keep political interference to a minimum. Idaho lawmakers pass a lump-sum appropriation for colleges and universities, leaving it to the gubernatorial appointees on the State Board to allocate the money.
The occasional flare up notwithstanding, lawmakers generally have directed their ire about liberal faculty to that board.
That wall just got dynamited. Odds are this won’t be the last time, especially when you consider that not one member of the State Board or even Gov. Brad Little, has recognized this troubling precedent for what it is.
That’s what the “Idaho way” means, President Tromp: Aren’t you glad you came here? — M.T.