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Idaho’s colleges and universities should face major consequences for disregarding lawmakers

Idaho’s colleges and universities should face major consequences for disregarding lawmakers

Wayne Hoffman
December 3, 2021

A year ago, I wrote that there should be hell to pay for Idaho’s colleges’ and universities' continued advancement of a clearly left-wing social justice agenda. Thankfully, our state’s elected representatives and senators agreed that they needed to act in order to get the higher education system back on track and under control. 

Lawmakers voted to cut $2.5 million from Boise State University, Idaho State University, and the University of Idaho. Not exactly the robust correction that the schools had coming to them, but at least it was a start. The Idaho Freedom Foundation legislative affairs director, Fred Birnbaum, worried at the time that it wouldn’t be enough to dissuade the schools from their agenda, given that the schools were also receiving a ton of federal aid in response to the so-called pandemic. 

Yet there was a small sliver of upside to the Legislature’s action: For the first time that anyone can remember, lawmakers weren’t just showering the state’s college and university presidents with praise about the football team’s most recent season or the latest research projects underway. They were asking about what students were learning and whether our schools were engaged in serious intellectual endeavors or if our college campuses had become mere indoctrination factories. 

After some cajoling, Idaho lawmakers cut $2.5 million in social justice spending from the higher education budget, legislation that secured Gov. Brad Little’s affirming signature. 

What has changed since the governor put pen to paper to approve that budget? 

Nothing. Absolutely nothing has changed. The presidents of the three schools pledged to keep existing social justice programs in place, ignoring what lawmakers have ordered them to do. BSU President Marlene Tromp said the cuts would just be absorbed through other pandemic-related savings. U of I President Scott Green said the cuts would be handled “centrally,” which is code for “diluted to avoid any meaningful impact on any of the social justice programs in place.”

For its part, the Idaho State Board of Education, which oversees the state’s higher education system, toyed with the idea of implementing a leftist diversity, equity, and inclusion policy, before quietly abandoning the idea. But the board hasn’t done anything to hold the schools accountable for the existing social justice elements or the ignored decision to cut social justice classes and programs. 

And, as the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Education Policy Director Anna Miller noted recently, Idaho’s public colleges and universities are demanding that job applicants adhere to leftist loyalty pledges to land jobs on campus. 

So now here we are, on the eve of yet another legislative session, and Idaho’s social justice-obsessed schools again have their hands out, demanding money. 

Now, more than ever, the Legislature needs to remind the presidents of Idaho’s public colleges and universities that it is the state’s residents that call the shots around here, and they do that through their elected senators and representatives. 

Last winter’s social justice cuts were not a suggestion. They were not recommendations. The cuts were not a polite nudge appended with a “please” at the end. They were a mandate, written into law that should have been honored, but were completely disregarded, and even the school’s oversight board provided cover for the inaction. 

I’m not sure what’s worse than “hell to pay” but whatever it is, Idaho’s colleges and universities and the State Board of Education have it coming in the 2022 legislative session. 

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