Last month Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, tore into Boise State University President Marlene Tromp about diversity programs.
Joining Ehardt in her letter were 27 House Republicans — including Mike Kinglsey of Lewiston, Thyra Stevenson of Nezperce, Bill Goesling of Moscow, Priscilla Giddings of White Bird and Paul Shepherd of Riggins.
But a lot of the wind has gone out of Ehardt’s sails since then.
Start with the accusation that BSU engaged in a “divisive and exclusionary” culture that “separates and segregates students.”
Critics are complaining about separate graduation exercises, such as a “Rainbow Graduation” or a “Black Graduation.”
But BSU did not do away with a general commencement exercise. After commencement, the university allows students to migrate to followup celebrations organized by ethnicity, race, religion, clubs or even college or department.
Moreover, as Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press noted recently, Ehardt’s letter focused on a handful of groups but ignored others. Not included on Ehardt’s list were BSU commencement events such as:
l International, which honored students from other countries, exchange program participants, alumni who studied abroad and students preparing for the Peace Corps.
l Fast Forward, which recognized first-generation college graduates.
l A celebration of nursing graduates.
Driving much of this, Ehardt said, was her concern that scarce dollars were being allocated to the few — and driving up the cost of an education for the many.
“The cost of college is a factor in some students dropping out,” she wrote. “Yet, instead of looking to assist our students, Boise State is adding unnecessary costs.”
But it’s Idaho lawmakers who bear the responsibility for rising tuition. This year, for instance, the authorized cost-of-living increase for employees at the four-year institutions of higher learning required $20 million; lawmakers provided $11.5 million and students made up the rest.
By the way, 16 of the 28 lawmakers who signed Ehardt’s letter — but not Ehardt — voted against that modest higher education funding package.
And the diversity programs Ehardt got so worked up about? Many don’t rely on tax or tuition dollars.
As Russell reported last week:
l The $30,000 Ehardt said was spent on BSU’s “Pow Wow, Rainbow Graduation, Black Graduation, Project Dream” is coming from the fees Coca-Cola pays for exclusive access to the campus market.
l A U.S. Department of Justice grant would cover the costs of protecting BSU’s LGBTQIA+ community from misconduct.
l A private business, EDR/Greystar — which partners with BSU’s honors college — is covering the cost of that new Student Affairs position assigned to assist first-generation students of color.
Said Ehardt: BSU was “targeting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students to apply for Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarships, even though the state turned down 1,780 Idaho applicants in 2018.”
DACA students — Dreamers brought to this country through no fault of their own — are legal residents under national law. If they graduated from an Idaho high school, they’re entitled to apply for one of these scholarships.
And if Ehardt cared so much about anyone who was left empty-handed, why did she — and 26 of the lawmakers who signed her letter — oppose a $7 million expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship program that extended help to another 2,000 students?
Finally, Ehardt bemoaned the university’s “gender-based violence community-coordinated response team, instead of letting police handle the matter,” and training search committees to recognize and overcome “implicit bias in hiring decisions.” If BSU failed to do either, it would violate federal laws, including Title IX.
Sure, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman, Vice President Fred Birnbaum and Communications Director Dustin Hurst have been busy writing column after column in Ehardt’s defense. They answer only to their own mysterious network of donors.
But the voters sent Ehardt to Boise where she helps set education policy for the rest of us.
What has she got to say for herself?
Did she contact anyone at BSU?
Did she do her own research?
Did someone mislead her?
And is this part of a pattern?
Earlier this year, Ehardt demanded a revamp of sex education programs on her flawed presumption that educators in Bonneville School District 93 in Idaho Falls were distributing illustrations of a masturbating man to the general student body. Had she bothered to ask educators, Ehardt would have learned the handouts were intended only for special needs students to discourage them from performing the activity in class.
Is this how Ehardt conducts the public’s business?
Enough from the Freedom Foundation, Rep. Ehardt. Please explain yourself. — M.T.