On Saturday, Boise State University students will protest in the wake of a video that surfaced featuring Scott Yenor, wherein he touted his discriminatory views towards women. Yenor, a BSU professor, shared his view that women should not be encouraged to enter fields such as engineering, medicine, and law and among other overtly sexist perspectives. There is a good reason students are upset with the University for letting Yenor achieve tenure, but it is important to understand the broader influences that have led us here. Namely, financial pressure from the Idaho Legislature keeps people representing BSU’s community from speaking out and is a major reason that Scott Yenor will not face consequences.
Finding evidence for his discriminatory views towards women isn’t hard. Beyond the video of Yenor at the National Conservatism Conference, read any of his books and you’ll be transported back to 1950’s era takes on gender. Ask a female student who took his class or even went as far as to change her emphasis to avoid being in the same room as him and you’ll see the detrimental effects Yenor has on our campus.
But as I said, it is best to understand what is going on with BSU’s budget first in order to understand why the University hasn’t spoken up against Yenor. BSU’s budget comes from three main sources: tuition, the State of Idaho, and endowment. An affordable tuition is a key part of BSU’s identity and increasing this is not something that most people want. Indeed, the University agreed to freeze tuition for 2021-2022 just last winter. The endowment is currently $116 million, which may seem like a high number, but the principal, or original amount, may not be spent. Generally, only around 5% of a university’s total asset value can be spent, so $1 million in the endowment translates to around $50,000 to spend per year. Enough for maybe just one staff member.
With this, we discover how threats to the state funded portion of BSU’s budget can be such a forceful motivator to comply with politics. A $1.5 million cut from the state, as seen last spring, cannot be easily recuperated from other sources. With frozen tuition, we use the 5% rule to find that an addition of $30 million to the endowment is required if the university does not want to deplete reserves or cut programs. A roughly $20 million budget cut, as has been called for by some especially radical legislators, would require an unobtainable $400 million increase, or an increase of quadruple our current endowment, by the same calculation.
What does Boise State’s budget have to do with Scott Yenor? Yenor, despite being a widely-recognized sexist, has one thing that makes him untouchable. He has powerful friends, including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, having served on the “Indoctrination Task Force” this summer. He also has worked with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a PAC that has had an increasingly strong influence on our state legislature. Taking a close look at voting records shows that there are Idaho Legislators who vote strictly along the IFF’s recommendations.
This puts leaders from every level at Boise State in a precarious position. Speaking out against even a clearly sexist professor such as Yenor places BSU in jeopardy. BSU must address Scott Yenor’s comments directly – this power struggle doesn’t excuse that – but this means that calling for change from BSU is simply not enough. For this and for any future cases of wrongdoing, Idaho must rebalance the extreme leverage that the State Legislature has over our universities to have a hope for change.