Rep. Barbara Ehardt and 27 of her fellow Republican members of Idaho’s House of Representatives recently sent a letter to Boise State University’s incoming president Dr. Marlene Tromp, encouraging her to eliminate specific diversity programs currently offered by the university. The Representatives provided two rationales — increased tuition for BSU students and adherence to the “Idaho Way” — as legitimate reasons for eliminating these specific programs. The tone of their message came across more as informing Dr. Tromp of how she should do her job than from a legitimate concern for all of Boise State’s students.
Rising tuition costs at Idaho’s colleges and universities have outpaced the stagnant wages offered by many Idaho employers. If this issue concerns our legislators, they are right to look at costly programs. In looking at the programs listed in the letter and researching their cost on this year’s budget, it appears that the programs in question cost the university less than $400,000 (i.e. Gender Equity $107,334; Multi cultural Student Services 67,978; Cultural and Ethnic Diversity $7,000). Eliminating these programs at BSU would provide minimal relief for families and/or students struggling to finance their continued education.
If our Republican legislators are honestly concerned about superfluous programs at Boise State and their cost burden for all students, they somehow missed other exclusive programs. Their letter did not suggest eliminating the program supporting the fraternities and sororities ($22,026). The university has a veteran’s coordinator for that select group of students ($48,943). How many students benefit from the $15,360 BSU allocates for a program in Canadian Studies? Like the programs listed in the letter to Dr. Tromp, these programs benefit a select population of students and thus encourage segregation within the student body.
Eliminating one specialized program would indeed provide tuition relief for all BSU students. The university could save $3,052,200 in salaries alone if it eliminated its athletic programs. The three assistant women’s basketball coaches earned a combined salary of $259,710. In addition to the coaches’ salaries, there would be no need for an Athletic Faculty Representative ($43,797) or Title IX positions in departments such as admissions or the registrar. Wouldn’t students benefit more from hiring additional academic professors than having an over abundance of coaches? Somehow, this costly program that benefits a select group of Boise State’s students slipped by our Republican members of Idaho’s House.
Boise State budgets $190,249 for all commencement activities. Students graduate at ceremonies at the end of each semester and the summer session. Of specific concern to Representative Ehardt and her peers in the legislature were the added costs of a few of these different activities. Specifically mentioned in the letter to Dr. Tromp were the International Graduation (multicultural), the Rainbow Graduation, and the Black Graduation activities. These events for specific student populations were deemed “antithetical” to the “Idaho way.” If events for those populations are incompatible to Idaho’s way because they excluded all graduates, then why did these Republican representatives fail to include the Nursing Commencement, Veterans Cords, and First Forward Graduations in their list of divisive programs?
From the list of programs singled out for elimination, a troubling trend became obvious. What the “Idaho Way” appears to mean to these elected officials only reflects the image that stares back at them from a mirror. Because these programs do not represent their individual values and they would not personally benefit them, our elected officials assume such activities are unnecessary and too costly to provide for others. One lesson that seems to have eluded these twenty-eight members of Idaho’s House of Representatives is that looking different or having other values does not lesson a person’s worth in our society. The differences among us create such a colorful world.
Shouldn’t the “Idaho Way” include and benefit anybody lucky enough to call this state home? The time has come for our legislators to follow through on their duty to fully fund Idaho’s educational needs for all students instead of attempting to marginalize specific student populations.
Written by Joanne Holtz of Wilder, a retired teacher and mother of three children who graduated from Idaho’s post-secondary institutions.