‘It’s about a conversation:’ Tromp talks about social justice backlash, state budget cuts

Boise State University President Marlene Tromp Thursday urged business leaders to speak up for higher education. Boise State developed these social justice programs, she said, to meet the business community’s demand for employees who are global citizens.

In the short run, Boise State University hopes to use cost savings to absorb a $1.5 million budget cut.

In the long run, Boise State President Marlene Tromp said she will continue to reach out to legislators to discuss the reasoning behind the cut — the ongoing angst over inclusion and social justice programs on the campus.

“To me, it’s not about a fight,” Tromp said Thursday, during a State of the University event sponsored by the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. “It’s about a conversation.”

Two weeks ago, legislators approved a higher education budget — but imposed cuts designed to curb and discourage social justice programs at the state’s universities. Boise State’s share of the cuts comes to $1.5 million; the state’s largest university will have a 2021-22 budget of $263.8 million, including state tax dollars, student tuition and fee revenues and federal coronavirus stimulus money.

Tromp says she hopes to cover the $1.5 million cut without affecting student programs or academics. She hopes to reallocate money saved over the past 15 months, as the pandemic brought staff travel to a near standstill.

In an interview with Idaho Education News Tuesday, Tromp said she wasn’t exactly sure how much Boise State saved on travel during the pandemic. But on Thursday, she emphasized the need to protect core programs.

“Already, we’ve had so much loss,” she said.

Since the pandemic, Boise State has cut 194 campus positions, imposed staff and faculty furloughs and frozen vacant positions.

During a question-and-answer session Thursday, Tromp spoke about the social justice and diversity debate that has marked her two years heading the state’s largest university.

Shortly after Tromp arrived in July 2019 — and conservative lawmakers sent the new president a letter urging her to disavow inclusion and diversity programs — Tromp said she had a two-hour meeting with one of the legislators. Eventually, the legislator said her fear was that a white student from small-town Idaho would feel ashamed or uncomfortable on campus.

“I don’t want that kid to feel ashamed either,” Tromp said Thursday. “I don’t want that kid to feel silenced either.”

But the relationship between Tromp and lawmakers isn’t always as collegial. Tromp recounted her tense January presentation before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Conservatives grilled her over the university’s contract with the Boise Police Department and the fate of Big City Coffee, which closed its campus shop amidst backlash over its pro-law enforcement stance.

“After JFAC, I got flowers and candy from people I never met, delivered to my house,” Tromp said.

During her address, delivered at a Boise Centre convention ballroom and over a virtual platform, Tromp touted Boise State’s pandemic response.

A quarter of Boise State’s fall credit hours were moved to ExtraMile Arena, allowing students to socially distance. The university has administered 5,500 COVID-19 vaccines and 40,000 COVID-19 tests, serving students, employees and the larger community. And the university’s remote learning upgrades will pay long-term dividends — for example, she said, remote learning will allow rural students to help out during harvest season without falling behind academically.

“There isn’t a university in the country who thought like that before the pandemic, and there will be precious few thinking like that on the other side,” Tromp said. “But Boise State will be.”

Watch Tromp’s full presentation here.


Kevin Richert

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 "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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