Green: ‘Misinformation and half-truths’ threaten higher education funding

Days after the demise of a higher education budget, University of Idaho President C. Scott Green is looking for backup from alumni and business leaders.

“In an unprecedented action, special interests have been actively working against passage of the higher education funding bill in the Idaho Legislature,” Green said in a letter Friday to U of I “alumni and friends,” as first reported by Melissa Davlin of “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television. “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.”

(Scroll down to read Green’s email in full.)

Green’s appeal for support is a not-so-veiled reference to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the lobbying group that has led opposition to the higher education budget. In a tweet Monday, the group dismissed Green’s comments as “spin.”

Previously, foundation president Wayne Hoffman hailed House members for rejecting the first version of the higher education budget, and urged lawmakers not to be timid:

“Lawmakers must instruct Idaho schools that no public funds should ever be used for social justice enterprises. The ‘public funds restriction is important, as these schools operate on several baskets of money from many sources. ‘No public funds’ means, it doesn’t matter whether the money comes from state or federal taxpayers, student tuition or fees, or in the form of a grant from Coca Cola, Disney, or Delta; no state institution should be engaging in the promotion of social justice dogma.”

(Scroll down to read Hoffman’s statement in full.)

The dueling statements come as legislative budget-writers prepare to take a second run at writing a higher education budget for 2021-22.

On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly rejected a higher education budget that had comfortably passed the Senate in March. Bill sponsor Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, urged House members to vote down the bill and allow budget-writers to start over. After nearly an hour of freewheeling debate — focused largely on social justice concerns — the House voted down the budget on a 13-57 vote.

It’s unclear when the budget rewrite will begin. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee meets Tuesday morning, but higher ed is not on its agenda.

In another dispatch from the higher education debate, the State Board of Education will take up a host of freedom of expression issues during a meeting next week.

The April 21-22 discussion will focus on several topics: campus freedom of expression, including a review of current board policies on speech; making some student fees optional; student course evaluations; student surveys on campus climate.

The meeting agenda is not set, but the board will accept comments on freedom of expression issues through April 19 at [email protected].

Here, in full, is Green’s letter:

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.

Here, in full, is Hoffman’s statement on the higher education budget:

Congratulations to members of Idaho’s House of Representatives, who voted 57-13 Wednesday against a bill that would have allowed the continued funding of social justice programs on our state’s public higher education campuses. 

Now the real work begins. Lawmakers must still pass a budget for Boise State University, University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College, and Idaho State University. Radicalism has very much infiltrated the college system, and the cost to Idaho taxpayers and students is easily more than $20 million.

That figure includes funding for gender equity and LBGTQ offices, myriad classes and lessons on “diversity and inclusion,” and teacher trainings built on critical race theory. Lawmakers must instruct Idaho schools that no public funds should ever be used for social justice enterprises. The “public funds” restriction is important, as these schools operate on several baskets of money from many sources. “No public funds” means, it doesn’t matter whether the money comes from state or federal taxpayers, student tuition or fees, or in the form of a grant from Coca Cola, Disney, or Delta; no state institution should be engaging in the promotion of social justice dogma. 

Lawmakers should also ensure that state taxpayers are no longer forced to subsidize the extreme left-of-center programming on government-run radio stations. That includes National Public Radio-saturated Boise State Public Radio and KISU. 

They should also provide the State Board of Education with explicit instructions to reduce  tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 academic year, as well as begin the process of allowing students to opt out of paying fees for programs they do not use.   

This is no time for lawmakers to be timid. Already this year, as lawmakers debated indoctrination on Idaho’s college campuses, students at Boise State University had to sit through a lecture in which the professor gave credence to the idea that white people should be held as slaves in retribution for historic black slavery.

Forgetting for a moment that it is fact that both blacks and whites have been victims of slavery, why should any college professor give a second of credence to the idea that, in the interest of fairness, we should subject people to violence, oppression, and other indignities merely for the crime of being white? And why should taxpayers and students be forced to pay thousands of dollars so that young minds can be filled with this trash? 

This is what passes for normal at Idaho’s institutions of “higher learning.” Entire classes, often mandatory even though they have little or nothing to do with a student’s field of study, are being used to indoctrinate students into worshiping at the altar of “wokeness.” 

Here in Idaho and nationally, young minds are compelled to seriously consider the most asinine theories and concepts that, as critical race theory purports, have been hidden from them by descendants of slave-owning white people who built an entire world and culture around their hetroersexual, monogamous, patriarchal view of the world. Students are quite literally being conned into believing that they are seeing the inhumanity of a society built on racism, thanks to the helpful state government employees known as professors, and institutions known as universities, who showed them the light. 

It’s obvious enough that members of the Idaho House of Representatives realize what’s going on. Based on their Wednesday vote, they’re ready to do something about it. 

 

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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