A $500,000 state budget cut should not have a huge impact on the University of Idaho — but President C. Scott Green is still dismayed by the political debate that led up to the cut.
Lawmakers last week cut $2.5 million from the higher education system, including $500,000 at the U of I, amidst fears that the state’s universities are pushing a leftist social justice agenda that is indoctrinating their students.
“I find a lot of the debate disappointing,” Green said during a virtual news conference Monday afternoon. “I’m hopeful that the rhetoric will just stop. I don’t expect that any time soon.”
Green has been outspoken during the budget debate, which has dominated much of the 2021 session. Last month, he urged alumni and business leaders to press for higher education funding — accusing critics of using “misinformation and half-truths” to subvert the budget.
But Green downplayed the effect of the budget, which Gov. Brad Little signed earlier Monday. Green said the U of I should be able to absorb the $500,000 in cuts from university reserves, avoiding an impact on student programs or academics.
“We’re OK with this budget,” Green said.
While Green stopped short of making a specific forecast, he said the university’s surplus this year should be “significantly more” than last year’s $900,000 ending balance.
While the Legislature could wrap up its 2021 session this week — lawmakers reconvene in Boise on Wednesday — the U of I is wrapping up its academic year this week, with commencement slated for this weekend.
The U of I was able to offer a mix of in-person and online learning during the pandemic — and staying open was a prevailing theme in Green’s State of the University address, delivered virtually last week.
The biggest surprise in the COVID-19 academic session was the lack of a big surprise, Green said Monday. The U of I was able to contain campus virus outbreaks. Fears of a crippling economic slowdown or a deep cut in state revenue never materialized.
“We were always waiting for the other shoe to drop with COVID,” he said. “We were on pins and needles, to be honest, all year long.”