UI president asks alumni, business leaders to counter attacks on higher ed

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

University of Idaho president C. Scott Green is asking alumni and business leaders to support higher education after the Idaho House of Representatives defeated the higher education budget last Wednesday.

BSU president Dr. Marlene Tromp and UI president C. Scott Green before JFAC on January 20, 2020 | Logan Finney

The defeat came partially at the bill sponsor’s request; Rep. Paul Amador asked the House to vote no on his own bill so the joint budget committee could rework it. Still, conservative lawmakers took the opportunity to voice their displeasure at Idaho’s four-year education institutions and and their so-called “social justice” and “critical race theory” curriculum and programs.

“The Idaho Legislature will appropriate over $600 million for Idaho Universities, and this is the 3rd largest budget category,” wrote budget committee member Rep. Ron Nate in a newsletter to his constituents. “We have a responsibility to makes sure the money truly goes to excellence in higher education and does not work against Idaho values and American values by promoting Marxist ideologies and racial dogmatism.” (Read the full except from Nate’s newsletter below.)

Green called the accusations “misinformation and half-truths” that come from special interest groups and “with the help and financial support of interests inside and outside of our state.” In the e-mail, originally sent to all UI advisory board members and unnamed industry leaders, Green asks for more vocal support for higher education. (Disclosure: I’m a UI alum and received this e-mail from the University of Idaho Alumni association. I’m posting it not for that reason, but because I think it’s newsworthy.)

Concerns about critical race theory and social justice have come up in multiple debates this legislative session, most recently during Monday morning’s Senate debate on the revised $6 million grant from the Trump administration for early childhood education. That bill barely passed 18-17, with a handful of senators echoing concerns about young children being taught about implicit bias. Bill sponsor Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking called discussion around those concerns “misguided, misunderstood, or simply not true.” In March, the House killed the first version of that appropriation 34-36.

On Monday, during a Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee meeting, co-chair Sen. Steve Bair said he hoped the committee would consider the recrafted higher ed budget on Tuesday morning.

Read Green’s full letter below.

“Dear Alumni and Friends of the University,

In an unprecedented action, special interests have been actively working against passage of the higher education funding bill in the Idaho Legislature. They have executed a campaign of radio ads, robo-calling and pressure on our legislators that may never have before been matched in effort or spending. These interests represent a libertarian-based ideology, the principles of which generally do not believe that any public funding should be used for public education. The misinformation and half-truths spread are directly impacting higher education funding by the Idaho Legislature.

They have targeted and tried to redefine issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice to create an illusion that higher education in Idaho is actively pushing a political agenda wrought with “leftist” indoctrination. You already know, based on your experience and relationship with the University of Idaho, that this is a completely inaccurate description of our institution. Yet, with the help and financial support of interests inside and outside of our state, this narrative gained enough traction to lead our legislators to defeat the higher education funding bill this week.

The University of Idaho has a longstanding, clear mission: to educate Idahoans. We do not condone indoctrination of any kind. We provide a place where people with all viewpoints can express themselves civilly. This is a core part of learning at an institution of higher education and, most importantly, is speech protected by the First Amendment. At the University of Idaho, we ask our faculty to ensure that multiple, differing sides of an issue are presented. We expect all our students and faculty to treat each other with respect, even when differing on viewpoints. In instances where students feel their views are not respected or that they have been shamed, there is a grievance process to evaluate claims and take action where appropriate, including where faculty or students do not meet our standards of respect. Regardless, the special interests have little incentive to make these truths known.

There is a troubling void of voices in the legislature standing up for the principles of critical thinking, the pursuit of knowledge, and the ability of students and faculty to explore ideas, examine the facts, and come to their own conclusions. The importance of protecting the First Amendment in the classroom was recently reiterated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, when they held last month in the Meriwether v. Hartop case that “American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom” that “have tried not to stifle debate by picking sides.” There is also a growing chorus that argues higher education is not worth the cost (despite the fact that college graduates earn over $1.2 million more over their lifetimes and live 9 years longer on average than non-graduates).

We have consistently and repeatedly told legislators that our industries demand critical thinkers. But without our industries delivering the same message to our legislators, it falls flat. There is a strong demand for a highly educated and diverse work force, a need Idaho’s universities are working hard to deliver. The four-year institutions have already agreed to hold tuition flat if the governor’s budget is passed. Defunding the state’s four-year institutions will make it even harder for industry to attract the workforce they need to grow in this state. This is a message I have heard over and over again.

The denigration of opportunities for the children of our state, together with the false narrative that a college degree is not valuable, are having a chilling effect on applications within the state of Idaho. In-state applications are down over 11%, a trend that is counter to the rest of the country (we are seeing dramatic increase in applications from other states).

It is likely that a new funding bill will again be taken up over the next few days. The attached talking points have already been distributed to our friends in the legislature. It is imperative the entire body hears directly from more than special interests and understands that public higher education needs public funding. Countering the negativity and showing support for higher education is in the best interest of Idaho. Showing support at this moment now is critical. The health of our educational institutions, state and your business depend on it.

SCOTT GREEN
President”

Here is Rep. Ron Nate’s take on the higher education budget, sent to his constituents in an April 8 e-mail newsletter:

“Wednesday, the House of Representatives sent a thunderous message about purging Social Justice indoctrination and activism from Idaho public university campuses by voting down the Higher Education budgets bill (S1179) on a 13-57 vote.  A prominent theme throughout this legislative session is what to do about the Social Justice (Critical Race Theory) indoctrination polluting Idaho public universities. While the State Board of Education is charged with over-seeing our universities, the Idaho Legislature controls the budgets and spending on higher education.  That is our tool for protecting students and institutions.

The House spoke loudly by sending the budget back to committee in order to remove social justice spending items.  In my speech, I said, “[Social Justice indoctrination] is a systemic problem at our universities, it’s baked into the curriculum and into the campus culture…This body tried to send a message last year by taking three tries at cutting the budget. The hope was that higher education would get the message and show positive action towards having a higher education system that better matched the values in Idaho. Unfortunately [higher education] seems to have doubled down on its social justice mission and critical race theory.”

The Idaho Legislature will appropriate over $600 million for Idaho Universities, and this is the 3rd largest budget category.  We have a responsibility to makes sure the money truly goes to excellence in higher education and does not work against Idaho values and American values by promoting Marxist ideologies and racial dogmatism.

Defeating the budget does NOT defund Idaho universities.  Instead, it means the budget must be re-done and re-voted.  The second attempt at the budget this year will be very telling about how the legislature views the future of our universities.  Will we send a strong message, or return to business as usual?  The big vote to kill the budgets bill was a very good start, and I am confident we can come up with a budget fully funding higher education in its mission for education excellence, without wasting taxpayer dollars on resources, programs, departments, offices, and activities promoting Social Justice agendas and Critical Race Theory indoctrination.”

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