Idaho lawmakers in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) proposed a $409,000 budget cut for Boise State University Wednesday morning. The move comes after over a year of threats from far-right Republican legislators to limit funding to Idaho’s four-year public universities and colleges: Boise State, Idaho State, University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.
However, the main focus is Boise State, which has been targeted by conservative lawmakers since President Marlene Tromp took office in July 2019 for diversity and inclusion initiatives that were on campus long before she arrived. This includes a letter sent to her by 28 Republican legislators in her first month on the job denouncing social justice and urging her to “consider a different path.”
Claiming that more needs to be done to remove social justice from Boise State, Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, proposed the $409,000 cut.
Before the university budget is cut, Crabtree’s proposal must pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate before being signed by Gov. Brad Little.
“We do need these kinds of people in our communities,” Crabtree said of college graduates. “That said, social justice involvement has got support for BSU in the ditch with the legislature and with constituents. We’ve tried for over a year to have our voices heard by that university, and we’ve been largely unsuccessful… we are left with no other option.”
JFAC saw several alternative motions for the higher education budget, including one by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, who proposed a massive cut of $18 million to higher education, and a cut of another $17 million to Boise State specifically.
Instead, the committee passed the $409,000 reduction to Boise State proposed by Crabtree. The reduction does not apply to the entire higher education budget. Instead, those funds will be transferred to Lewis-Clark State College for staffing costs, meaning that the higher education budget as passed out of committee matches the 2.6% increase proposed by Little, totaling $315.2 million.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, voiced support for Gidding’s proposal and said that Crabtree’s proposal was “disappointing.” Nate listed courses, departments and organizations at all four Idaho public universities and colleges that he said were perpetuating social justice ideology that should receive budget cuts.
“[We should] send the message to return higher education to its main mission of preparing students for lifelong learning, for prosperous careers and a successful family,” Nate said.
Within the legislature, Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, defended Boise State on Wednesday, citing the efforts of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT to create services for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to promote equity and enrollment.
“I have a hard time believing that what Boise State is doing is so out of touch with what a higher education institution should be doing that the same exact programs are being recommended by BYU administrators at perhaps the most conservative university in the country,” Nash said.
Meanwhile, large businesses and organizations in Idaho say that promoting social justice in college provides graduates with necessary skills. The Idaho National Laboratory director expressed concern last year to the Post Register that the state was gaining a bigoted reputation for anti-trans legislation. Leaders of companies like Micron, HP, Chobani and Clif Barhave also spoken in support of diversity and Boise State’s initiatives, saying that they prepare Idahoans for their future careers.
“What’s happening at Boise State is the same thing that’s happening elsewhere,” Nash said. “Students did not feel heard, they did not feel seen, they did not feel understood and they struggled academically for those reasons. And so the university did the right thing and started making concerted efforts to make sure people felt included and found academic success at Boise State.”
Nash criticized his fellow lawmakers for “buying into a narrative created by special interest groups that tell us diversity and inclusion programs [are] at odds with our own values.”
Despite the funding restriction approach, the Idaho Press found last year that many of the events and programs of concern to the legislature weren’t actually funded by taxpayers, but by grants and corporate donations instead.
Boise State President Marlene Tromp told Idaho Education News Wednesday that while misinformation pervaded the committee discussion, “We’re listening to our legislators. We’re listening to Idaho. We want to be collaborative partners.”
Since the general higher education budget is technically the same figure proposed by Little, the current undergraduate tuition freeze may remain in place. The university presidents agreed to extend the tuition freeze from 2020-2021 into 2021-2022 if the legislature passed Little’s budget. It is currently unknown whether this cut to Boise State’s budget will impact the deal to freeze tuition for the upcoming year.