Barbara Ehardt

Barbara Ehardt

Twenty-eight House Republicans sent a letter to Boise State University’s new president Tuesday criticizing the university’s diversity-related programs and asking her to take the school down a different path.

The letter, which was sent to Boise State University President Marlene Tromp and written by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, faults these programs for dividing people and connects them to rising tuition.

“This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students,” Ehardt wrote. “These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now — and that BSU should redress these grievances.”

The letter is framed as a response to a newsletter former BSU Acting President Martin Schimpf sent out a month ago highlighting the university’s spending on programs supporting minority students and touting efforts to increase the recruitment of minority faculty and students. Tromp was named BSU’s president in April and only recently took the reins.

“It is clear to me that students, faculty and staff across campus understand the importance of Boise State being a leader on inclusive excellence — not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is vital to maintaining our ability to serve our students into the future,” Schimpf wrote.

The letter’s signatories include Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star; Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Nampa; and local Reps. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls; Chad Christensen, R-Ammon; Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot; Kevin Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs; Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom; Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley; and Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly.

Ehardt said she and the other lawmakers hope the letter marks the start of a conversation with BSU.

“Both myself and my fellow legislators certainly want to begin a dialogue as to the direction of higher education in Idaho,” she said. “We’ll continue to proceed, and we want to make sure we’re focusing on academic excellence. And then we also want to make sure as best we can that an education in Idaho is affordable to Idaho kids.”

Ehardt said similar initiatives have created division and chaos elsewhere and go against the principle that people should be judged on individual merit.

“As Gov. (Brad) Little has said, we do things the Idaho way,” she said. “We believe in traditional values such as being rewarded for hard work.”

BSU spokesman Greg Hahn had no immediate response, saying he was unable to reach Tromp on Thursday.

Ehardt lists numerous programs at BSU that she says are “antithetical to the Idaho way,” criticizing support for multicultural student events and graduate school preparation courses and fellowships that target underrepresented groups. BSU, Ehardt wrote, should focus on programs that benefit all students instead. The letter also connects these programs to tuition, which is set to go up 5 percent for 2019-2020 and has increased nearly 14 percent over the past three years.

“As legislators, our constituents always ask us about the rapidly increasing cost of college tuition,” Ehardt 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.”

She lists numerous programs that, she said, add costs, including targeting undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States as children to apply for Opportunity Scholarships “even though the state turned down 1,780 Idaho applicants in 2018;” hiring an American Indian liaison and a staffer to support first-generation nonwhite students; another new staffer in the provost’s office dedicated to diversity and inclusion; and spending $25,000 to attract more minority job candidates and $30,000 to support “multicultural student events, including Pow Wow, Rainbow Graduation, Black Graduation, (and) Project Dream.”

The legislators’ letter makes many of the same points Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman did in a column last month criticizing the programs mentioned in Schimpf’s newsletter. The libertarian-leaning group put out a statement Thursday backing the lawmakers’ message.

“IFF applauds the 28 House members who bravely spoke up today, and we join the chorus,” said IFF Vice President Fred Birnbaum. “IFF urges President Tromp to avoid buying into the radical left-wing agenda that has ruined the academic experience of millions of students on campuses across America.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.