Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Boise State University’s new president Friday praising the school’s diversity programs and faulting the Legislature’s Republican majority and the levels of funding they approved for recent tuition increases.
The letter to BSU President Marlene Tromp, which was signed by all 21 of the Legislature’s Democrats, is in response to one 28 House Republicans sent her earlier this week. That letter, which was written by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, and signed by several eastern Idaho lawmakers, criticized some of BSU’s minority outreach and multicultural programs as divisive and wastes of money.
The Democrats praised BSU programs that emphasize minority hiring, helping minority graduate students, responding to gender-based violence and preventing sexual misconduct in the gay and transgender communities. They also praised multicultural student events such as graduation programs for black or gay and transgender students, saying they “celebrate diversity and drive academic success.”
“Idaho’s higher education institutions create welcoming environments to serve students from diverse backgrounds who are striving for a better life and more opportunity,” the Democrats wrote. “This is the ‘Idaho way.’”
All these programs came under criticism in the Republicans’ letter. The Democrats’ letter uses the phrase “Idaho value(s)” a couple of times; the Republicans’ letter used the same phrasing but cast the programs in question as not being in line with Idaho values.
“Exclusion won’t make college more affordable, but it will destabilize our economy and threaten our quality of life,” the Democrats wrote. “Increasing accessibility and making college more affordable will tear down barriers.”
Former BSU Acting President Martin Schimpf sent out a newsletter in early June highlighting the university’s spending on programs supporting minority students and touting efforts to increase the recruitment of minority faculty and students. Idaho Freedom Foundation head Wayne Hoffman wrote a column a couple of weeks later saying Idaho universities are “using their campuses as state-sponsored platforms for intolerance, division, and victimhood,” pointing to the programs Schimpf wrote about. The House Republicans’ letter also referred to Schimpf’s newsletter and criticized the same programs.
“Idaho’s college campuses should be welcoming places for all students and employees, of all backgrounds,” Hoffman wrote. “Full stop. Campuses should have a laser focus on the unifying, shared desire of students who want to advance their careers and earn their degrees. There should be no tolerance for policies or expenditures that cater to the culture of victimhood, which is becoming all too common on campuses throughout the country.”
Tromp said in a statement Friday she believes a public university’s job is both to provide academic rigor and support students.
“Political divisions in our country often make these conversations very difficult and can even cause harm,” she said. “I believe we can have a meaningful dialogue that underscores our common commitment to the well-being of our students and to the future of the state.”
Tromp said she had already scheduled a meeting with Ehardt before the letter and looks forward to hearing her concerns and ideas.
“I am grateful for the genuine engagement of our legislators, as well as to people from across the state who have reached out to me to express support,” Tromp said. “Public universities must foster and protect the open exchange of ideas in order to ensure a broad and deep educational experience. Boise State is honored to carry forward this critical charge.”
In their letter, the Democrats blame the spending levels set by the Legislature for rising tuition. They say they will work to increase funding for the state’s universities and praise the state’s education leaders for supporting various scholarship and tuition assistance programs.
“After years of substantially underfunding higher education’s budget, our colleagues are now telling you what programs you should and should not offer,” the Democrats’ letter says. “Our caucus understands the importance of higher education for ALL students. We appreciate Boise State University’s efforts to maximize educational outcomes while ensuring equal and diverse access to Idahoans.”