Analysis: Little’s silence becomes part of the Boise State diversity story

(UPDATE: We published this blog post Tuesday. Little broke his silence Wednesday. Here’s what he had to say.)

Gov. Brad Little will have no comment today on the ongoing furor surrounding Boise State University’s diversity and inclusion programs.

And that might not change any time soon.

“Gov. Little is traveling out of the state on business this week and is not available for comment,” spokeswoman Emily Callihan said in an email to Idaho Education News Tuesday morning.

Little has said little on a heated debate that has festered for nearly two weeks, divided House Republicans and legislative Democrats, and defined Marlene Tromp’s brief tenure as Boise State’s new president.

Gov. Brad Little has said nothing about an anonymous postcard, lampooning Boise State University President Marlene Tromp and State Board of Education members.

And when Little was silent Monday — after lawmakers received anonymous and cartoonish postcards lampooning Tromp and members of Little’s State Board of Education — he came under renewed criticism. The silence became a piece of the storyline.

“Time for Gov. Little to speak out and defend Boise State and diversity programs in all Idaho’s universities,” former Boise State President Bob Kustra said in a tweet.

Said Marc Johnson, a chief of staff for Cecil Andrus, the only four-term governor in state history: “I’m sorry, but governors don’t get away without a comment on this kind of foolish and dangerous nonsense. (Little) needs to condemn this — and fast.”

Legislative Democrats also urged Little and fellow Republicans to decry the postcard.

While the diversity debate is clearly an early test for Tromp, who started as Boise State president on July 1, it also presents a challenge to Little, seven months after taking office. And it isn’t just that Little is getting pressure, on a hot-button topic, from a cadre of conservative lawmakers. Monday’s postcard mocked the State Board, a powerful policymaking panel under the governor’s purview, just as Little is trying to fill two board vacancies.

It’s a question of what Little has to say about diversity programs at Boise State and beyond. It’s also a question of what Little says (or doesn’t say) about his own team on the State Board.

So while Little remains mum, the closest thing to a comment from Little’s team came in the form of a stinging statement from State Board President Debbie Critchfield.

“I wish that as much time and energy as went in to the creation and distribution of the postcard was used to actually learn the facts,” she said Monday. “The postcard is a distraction and waste of time for those of us actually working on positive educational outcomes.”

 

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