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Updates on legislative activities that impact higher education

Dear Colleagues,

As I promised in my campus letter last week, I write to update you on three bills, including the higher education budget bill, that have been moving through legislative processes. Here are updates on where those stand at the end of this week.

House Bill 364

Protecting Critical Thinking in Higher Education Act

Held in the Senate Committee and not expected to move forward this year. This bill largely focused on freedom of thought and expression, principles to which we are deeply committed as a university.

House Bill 387

College and Universities Appropriations

The bill that determines our funding from the state was passed out of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee on April 27, but must clear the full House and Senate. Boise State received a one-time $1.5 million reduction in general funds.

This is a painful cut when we have already faced the financial challenges of the pandemic and all the incredible outcomes that have been achieved this past year in spite of the hardships. These losses have not been amended by the federal relief dollars that have come to the university. We have been working, however, area by area, since the pandemic began to ensure that we are prepared to face budgetary hardship. That effort will aid us in weathering this additional cut.

House Bill 377

Relating to Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Public Education

House Bill 377 was signed by the Governor on April 28. This bill was articulated as a necessary prerequisite for the passage of House Bill 387, our budget bill.

The text of this new law can be found here (pdf). The law mirrors our Board Policy, which states that “administrators, faculty members, other employees, and students … respect the dignity of others, acknowledge the right of others to express differing opinions, and foster and defend intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry and instruction, and freedom of speech and association”—principles to which academics have been committed throughout the life of the academy.

The bill explicitly objects, however, to concepts the Legislature finds are “often found in ‘critical race theory,’” which they feel “exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.”

Finally, the bill includes that “No public institution of higher education shall direct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to any of the following tenets: (i) That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior; (ii) That individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin; or (iii) That individuals, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin” [emphasis added].

Attorneys from across our system and in the Office of the State Board of Education are working to understand the implications of this new legislation for our universities.

What we do know is this: fundamental to the notion of education is authentic engagement with ideas. Compelled action or thought are not education. We are committed, as a faculty and staff—as a whole university—to education, to open debate, to freedom of thought and expression. We support these values for our students, for our faculty, for our staff.

Sometimes real dialogue about difficult issues can be uncomfortable, tense, or frustrating. I recall a time when I walked into class and noticed that an ordinarily very orderly student had a large balled up piece of paper on her desk. To open class, I asked people to turn to a page in the very difficult article we had read for that day. She reached for the wadded up ball of paper, flattened it out as best she could, and turned to the page. Her copy, though well wrinkled, was covered in thoughtful notations and marks.  She looked up at me and said with a smile, “It was really hard, Dr. Tromp.”

True learning can be challenging. We remain committed to that process and practice.  We remain committed to respecting our faculty’s right to academic freedom, a fundamental building block of education. We remain committed to honoring the dignity of our students when they disagree with us or one another. We will work together to ensure that our students and our fellow Idahoans understand how important these commitments are to all of us.

In that way, we will continue to shine a bright light, filled with vital learning for the well-being and future of our individual students, our community, and our state.

Dr. Marlene Tromp