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Idaho could abolish discriminatory DEI programs at public universities this year

Idaho could abolish discriminatory DEI programs at public universities this year

Anna Miller
February 22, 2024

Idaho Senator Brian Lenney (R-Nampa) recently introduced a bill to abolish discriminatory diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in institutions of higher education. DEI offices stifle intellectual freedom, prevent equal treatment and opportunity, and create a hostile environment for anyone who dissents from the reigning orthodoxy on campus. 

Idaho colleges and universities enforce the DEI orthodoxy on campus through diversity statements, DEI bureaucracies, and DEI training among other policy mechanisms. Multiple states have already abolished DEI in higher education, including Florida, Iowa and Texas. Other states are considering similar legislation to stop this pernicious ideology corrupting public colleges and universities such as South Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana. 

“This bill aligns Idaho with a growing national trend. We're taking a stand against unnecessary expenditure on DEI bureaucracies, focusing our resources on academic excellence and merit-based opportunities. Our goal is to ensure a fair and effective educational system for all Idahoans, free from the influences of identity politics,” stated Senator Lenney. 

If passed, Senate Bill 1357 would abolish DEI offices at Idaho’s four public universities by prohibiting the use of funds to support such offices or employees. 

Abolishing DEI offices affects the goal of Idaho law, which is to “secure for all individuals within the state freedom from discrimination” and to eliminate “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex or other things.” 

In our Idaho Freedom Foundation report we offer many examples of the discriminatory programs and practices pushed by DEI offices. For example, under DEI offices, our universities have had Black-only or LGBT-only graduation events and centers. Boise State’s Student Equity center, which claims to model diversity and advocate for equity, hosts several identity based and racially discriminatory graduation ceremonies, including “Black Excellence Stole Celebration” for black students, “Lavender graduations” for LGBTQ only students, and the “LatinX Stole Celebration.” The University of Idaho recently started the Black Cultural Center to provide a “safe space for black students.” The dedicated director, Mario Pile, has claimed he will “reach out to more potential Black students. . . to enroll at the university.”

These events and practices violate Idaho law. Senate Bill 1357 eliminates the offices and funding supporting such activities. 

The legislation takes an atypical approach by listing the DEI offices and positions to be eliminated. This approach is necessary, as demonstrated in other states where universities have gone to great lengths to evade the legislature's directives. For example, legislation not listing the specific offices in Texas and Tennessee among other states has led to universities simply renaming their offices and continuing discriminatory DEI policies and programs.

The bill also bans the use of coercive diversity statements, which require job candidates to adhere to DEI ideology in both word and deed. The Idaho State Board of Education has already passed a resolution prohibiting the use of diversity statements instead of merit-based practices. Senate Bill 1357 codifies this position and extends that principle to offices designed to create discriminatory, ideological tests. There have not been any adverse rulings from federal courts on other states' DEI office bans.

The bill would also end mandatory diversity training for students, faculty, or staff on college campuses. Finally, the legislation creates a private cause of action for students, staff, and faculty members if the university violates the law. 

Overall, Senate Bill 1357 eliminates about $4.5 million of the total $6 million that Idaho's public university system spends on 75 DEI administrators. 

Senator Lenney emphasizes “This isn't just about streamlining operations; it's about ensuring taxpayer dollars are used in the most efficient way possible to support the primary educational needs of our students.” 

The Idaho legislature has long been concerned about the problems associated with DEI. A few years ago, the legislature cut university budgets and demanded that our universities return to their “core mission,” the pursuit of truth, instead of emphasizing DEI. The legislature did so because DEI spending is divisive in itself, it detracts from achievements made by all students regardless of their immutable characteristics. 

Instead of following the legislature's directives, DEI spending has nearly tripled in Idaho higher education. Idaho universities are simply ignoring the will of the legislature, and worse; they are doubling down. 

If the Legislature meant what it said, it now has another opportunity to end ideological conformity on college campuses and promote the search for truth and knowledge while protecting merit, competence and integrity. Idaho higher education should not fall for the distractions and divisions coming from DEI ideologies; instead higher education should promote academic excellence as its prime directive.

Idaho Freedom Foundation
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