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The Higher Education Battle in Idaho: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Smokescreens

The Higher Education Battle in Idaho: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Smokescreens

Anna Miller
September 13, 2021
Anna Miller
Author Image
September 13, 2021

We are living in an era of unprecedented pressure for ideological conformity within institutions of higher education. Idaho’s Legislature has led the way toward reforming public universities through budgetary controls. Lawmakers were awakened to the need for reform by in-depth reports, which led to the House calling for a $4 million budget reduction at the universities. Red states are following suit and trying to resist the ideological pressure in higher education, but they face a unique challenge. They have to combat the establishment right’s reassurance that deceptive rhetoric is not only harmless, but that the state’s education system is immune to the advancement of Critical Social Justice (CSJ).

Recent events in Idaho reflect this manipulative strategy.

Although Idaho has Republican supermajorities in both state legislative bodies, Republican state board members are part of the education establishment. Amid public backlash against the politicization of the education system, the board has claimed all allegations are “unfounded” while simultaneously endorsing CSJ advancement — and denying that that is what it is doing.

During the 2021 session, legislators cut university budgets by $2.5 million and implemented a tuition freeze for the second time due to concerns over the intrusion of CSJ.  Meanwhile, the state board asserts there is no critical race theory in Idaho, only diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), they say, which is supposedly unrelated. In Idaho, people are told, DEI is just a respectable deliverance of American common sense. There is nothing revolutionary in the support of DEI.

The latest example is the board’s new policy mandating that universities implement DEI initiatives. Each university must adopt DEI policies and incorporate them into their mission statement. Universities must also continue complying with their accreditation institution, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which demands adherence to DEI.

The board has developed definitions for DEI in consultation with current state university presidents. The board’s policy makes it seem like diversity, equity, and inclusion are just neutral, catch-all terms. But the new policy serves as a smokescreen to accelerate the transformation of Idaho’s higher education system.

DEI presents the same analysis and remedy as CSJ. The ideas behind both DEI and CSJ, emphasize that American society is irredeemably racist or sexist, group identity must transcend individuality, and equity must be celebrated while meritocracy stigmatized. The two cannot be divorced. DEI is simply the mechanism by which CSJ is applied to universities by implementing policies attempting to overturn supposed systems of oppression.

The board’s policy pledges to protect and promote all types of differences including race, sex, religion, or ideology. But the past history of Idaho’s universities shows that they are interested in only certain kinds of diversity. Race and sex will be prioritized over ideology and religion.

For example, both University of Idaho (UI) and Boise State University (BSU) assume that no department or search committee can be trusted to make hiring decisions apart from the dominant culture. All job pools are vetted to increase the likelihood that minority and female candidates are hired, but no mention is ever made and no effort is ever expended to make sure that the university’s hegemonically liberal professoriate do not exercise an “implicit bias” against conservatives or Christians.

The board’s fake commitment to “diversity” protects certain kinds of differences. In fact, ideological diversity is indeed a threat to the “welcoming” and “inclusive” environment that the universities claim to want. More on that in a moment.

The board’s policy defines equity as ensuring equitable opportunities for all community members. This violates the first rule of definitions: do not use the word you are defining (equitable opportunities) to define the word (equity)! That in itself is revealing, because such definitions obscure or take for granted what they are really trying to accomplish.

But CSJ universities only achieve “equity” when they achieve equality of result or statistical group parity. For instance, women make up only 8 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM). CSJ universities perceive this disparity as evidence of discrimination.

Thus, UI has a housing unit dedicated exclusively to promoting women in STEM. There is no corresponding housing unit dedicated exclusively to men in underrepresented fields such as education. Boise State’s Gender Equity Center hosts a Scholarships for Women page on its website that suggests only women can apply. There are no external male-only scholarships listed or promoted, despite thousands existing across the country.

CSJ universities insist that dismantling this old culture of alleged discrimination, regardless of how well it worked or met the needs of unique individuals, and building a new culture will achieve parity. Unfortunately, that goal means that individual excellence must be subordinated to filling group quotas.

Inclusion, according to the board’s policy, means fostering an environment where the inherent worth and dignity of all individuals are recognized, valued, and have equitable opportunities. Inclusion is necessary to promote freedom of expression, the board says. This sounds harmless and welcoming.

But today’s inclusion at CSJ universities demands an institutional climate that elevates groups that have been designated as oppressed and denigrates those designated as privileged. To BSU, this meant excluding ideas and things that some members of minority groups find objectionable. Student activists, empowered by diversity and inclusion administrators, bullied a small business off campus for having a Thin Blue Line sticker (supporting the police) on its storefront.

Ironically, the university claimed the exclusion of police supporters from campus was an attempt to protect free expression.

LGBT-only graduations are done at BSU in the name of inclusion. Speech codes also arise to achieve the new inclusion. For example, Bias Incident Response Teams roam freely at both universities, using their power to investigate supposedly biased speech that people report, regardless of the defendant’s intent. As a result, ideologically dissenting faculty members and students can be expelled, fired, or punished.

The education establishment hides the true intentions of DEI despite, or maybe because of, the fact every university that focuses on it eventually fosters a tyrannical environment where students and faculty members walk on eggshells to avoid trouble with hypersensitive students or administrators.

Once the new policy is passed, although it could still be turned down during the final vote, the board will no longer need to argue that Idaho is immune to the advancement of divisive ideologies or that the public’s allegations are “unfounded.” The advancement of CSJ at universities will become protected under the guise of adhering to professional state standards.

This same line of reasoning previously led the board to mandate cultural responsiveness, social justice, and DEI in teacher certification standards. Now when parents object to critical race theory education models in their child’s school, district officials can claim they are just following state standards. Such policies are currently busy destroying meritocracy and educational excellence in Idaho school districts.

To fix this problem, the board could enact a policy to annually assess the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at public universities. These assessments could determine the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and to what extent students and faculty members feel free to express their beliefs on campus. Further, the board must hold institutions of higher education accountable to their core missions—to protect academic freedom in research, teaching, and learning for the purpose of the “advancement of truth” and serving the “common good”—and establish the precedent that DEI is antithetical to that mission.

Universities welcome the education establishment’s insistence that the plain words and resulting actions of CSJ universities do not mean what they plainly demonstrate, because they enjoy the board’s coverage for their political agenda. Legislators who cut the budget of Idaho’s universities by $2.5 million for pursuing social justice should be concerned and contemplate taking further steps to fend off the DEI invasion.

The more Idaho’s legislature wakes up to the threat of the establishment, the more they will object and try to stop it. This is what the establishment most fears and wants to avoid. A wide-awake legislature should starve the board of public funds until its leadership commits to reforming institutions of higher education.

View Comments
  • bob HOLUP says:

    When "Purple" people choose to separate themselves from ALL the people the purple people choose segregation and a lack of diversity. If ALL the people want fair and equitable treatment then ALL the people will be inclusive because we are just... the people

  • Cowboy Up says:

    So I’m kind of wondering at what point it all went south here? It all went off the rails over the past year or so. You’re slowly becoming one with the very approach you’re taking issue with in the way that you’re going about. Trying to stop the cult of victimhood by joining it is a losing battle and it’s like quicksand where the more you struggle with it hastens the descent until you eventually become one with it. Let me expound on this.

    Do I honestly believe that DEI initiatives in higher education are going to result in some sort of systemic downfall and threat to my way of life and how I raise my kids? No Chicken Little, I don’t. I felt the same way about the whole CRT whine fest during the legislative session. I could apply many of the arguments to other university programs that I don’t agree with from a libertarian perspective as a good use of tax dollars but in this whole democracy thing we have winners and losers when it comes to who gets the government money. Unfortunately it’s sometimes those who whine the most and the loudest. Whining about the whiny people probably isn’t the best solution. My kids probably aren’t going to become radicals from PBS Kids either. I’m thinking it has more to do with the 99% of the rest of their life spent engaging and interacting with others, observing, learning etc. They may share my values but I doubt if they end up opposite of me it will be because of a DEI initiative at their university.

    Perhaps the universities are simply responding to the desires of their customers? I don’t believe the DEI initiatives are unique to publicly funded schools. Corporations have them as well last time I checked. Why you may ask? An opportunity to appeal to and expand the customer base and increase sales or maybe it’s to avoid bad press and protect existing sales because all of their competitors are doing it. Both would be interactions with the market and a response gauged on the market. You could blame the media but that’s just more cult of victimhood. The press presents what draws attention which is the outer ends of bell curve of day to day human life. No stories on the evening news about me going to work yet another day, reading my kids a bedtime story, and so forth. Instead it’s those things that drive outrage and indignation. Just tune in and you’re a victim now too. That attention draws advertising and the cycle repeats. The media is simply a risk you pick a path to deal with as a private company.

    Maybe those with conservative ideals and values don’t need to be coddled at their universities? A funny thing about values you hold and how dearly you hold them is the moment of truth and reckoning which comes when that value is challenged. If you welcome the challenge and it battle hardens you congratulations that’s a pretty firmly held belief. If you don’t withstand the challenge and relinquish it you were probably just a poser fanboy in the first place. Are we trying to create a state of emo cry coddled conservatives here or do we want those who withstand the challenge, those who run toward the fire? Those who don’t try to whine their way out of it hoping somebody else will fix it but rather go work on the change they want to see? Maybe you should be arguing for more DEI initiatives because you’ll end up with a more resilient and dedicated albeit smaller group who share the values you claim and are willing to go the mat?

    Should the government enforce employment protection for political leanings in the workplace as well? Should those be protected classes? Most people are smart enough to do their jobs and not pick fights over politics at work. Their employer could lean one way or the other politically and they may not agree but realize that being the eccentric outlier isn’t good for going up the ladder. That employer may make ample money on government contracts. Do we need to make sure that government contract rules coddle those politically outspoken employees and protect their employment if they choose to spout off about their politics and pick fights with co-workers about it?

    Do I worry about women only housing units for women in STEM? Do I worry that there’s a website for women’s scholarships? No I don’t. People will always do things that cater to certain subsets of society both in government and the private sector. If that makes you feel like you and your tribe are now victims and need attention and remediation of it that’s your chosen approach on how to deal with it. I’m sure the college guys can use a search engine to find the opportunities just like you did if they’re so motivated to do so. I’m sure the guys in STEM can find a place to live together if they’re also motivated to do so.

    I could have gone the victimhood route and whine about being excluded from so many scholarships through no fault of my own but rather I chose to seek out scholarships which played to my strengths. I could have skipped that part and taken out massive student debts and now played the victim card there as well whining about how I need student loan forgiveness. I didn’t I got a job worked hard and kept the debt load under control. I could have pursued a course of study with a low earning likelihood and then played the victim card when I could find a decent job. Nope on that one too. I picked one that was a challenge and I knew that someday would help me obtain a profession.

    Recapping all of this joining the cult of victimhood echo chamber just puts you into the category of yet another oppressed special snowflake tribe. Here’s a radical idea – instead of whining about how publicly funded universities use their tax dollars maybe it’s time for a voucher system for higher education in Idaho? Each student gets X dollars to spend for Y number of years and they pick the institution. If DEI is so intolerable and out of touch with the free market the colleges and universities respond accordingly to their customer base. If it turns out that the universities were just responding to the customer base and those things stick around then the matter is settled. I’m betting that would accomplish more towards the goal here rather than whining about a budget amount that’s the equivalent of a rounding error. It’s probably a percentage of what they spend on landscaping annually. Maybe the voucher approach is way too libertarian for you?

    If that’s a leap too far maybe you push to also add to the curriculum things that are inherently conservative and also happen to be some great life skills along with the DEI initiatives. I’ve hit on some of them here. Good examples would be fighting your own battles and not expecting others to do it for you (e.g. students address this with their university rather than IFF going to bat for them and gasp maybe take their dollars elsewhere), owning your problems and what you choose to do about them (even if it’s not your fault generally is more effective than playing the victim card and expecting someone else to fix it), building resilience and fortitude for the challenges life throws at you.

    In summary Anna I like you and I feel like you could accomplish so much more than peddling the cult of victimhood. In response to the issues you perceive of bias against conservatives at universities maybe you could pursue a doctoral degree and once you’re there commit yourself to being a professor in journalism or another field that plays to your strengths. Once you’re there and achieve tenure you could incorporate teaching some of the values I’ve mentioned in the prior paragraph. It’s a much tougher path but it’s harder to actually do something about an issue than just raise awareness. That’s just being a victim and expecting someone else to fix it for you.

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