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Investigators find no wrongdoing in Boise State diversity course

Posted at 10:07 AM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 10:34:03-04

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News.

An independent investigation of a Boise State University diversity course found no evidence of wrongdoing.

What’s more, investigators from the Boise law firm Hawley Troxell found no signs of student indoctrination — the very conduct legislators targeted with a law passed in the waning days of the 2021 session.

Boise State released the Hawley Troxell report Monday — more than two months after temporarily suspending its University Foundations 200 course, over complaints that students had been harassed because of their personal beliefs and values. Days later, Boise State hired Hawley Troxell to investigate the complaints, using a budget line item earmarked to handle bias or discrimination complaints. (Boise State hasn’t yet received a bill for Hawley Troxell’s investigation, spokeswoman Lauren Griswold said Monday morning.)

Boise State later moved the UF 200 course to an online format during the investigation.

In the report, investigators said they interviewed about 30 students, Boise State President Marlene Tromp and “multiple” UF 200 instructors, among others.

“No students who participated in the investigation reported that they were ever forced to apologize for the color of their skin,” the report concluded. “Nor did any student report being personally singled out for their skin color or being subjected to taunts, name-calling, or other degrading behavior from an instructor or other students based on their skin color, beliefs or ideas.”

Investigators said they set up a dedicated email account, where students could report concerns anonymously. The invitations went out to 2,820 students — the number of students who took UF classes in fall 2020 or spring 2021.

After several failed attempts, investigators said they finally spoke to the unnamed complainant at the center of the controversy. This non-student reported seeing a video showing a UF 200 student forced to apologize for being white or enjoying “white privilege,” while classmates taunted the student.

“The Complainant declined to identify any student and declined to describe in any detail what he has seen or heard from students other than that it was ‘really inappropriate,’” the report said. “The Complainant stated that he did not have possession of the video he had seen and declined to provide any information on how it could be obtained.”

The UF 200 complaint became a flashpoint in the Legislature’s higher education debate, which was punctuated by claims of campus indoctrination.

Saying they were frustrated by university social justice programs, the Legislature cut $1.5 million from Boise State’s budget, $500,000 from the University of Idaho and $500,000 from Idaho State University. Lawmakers also passed House Bill 377, an anti-indoctrination law specifically targeting critical race theory.

And the Idaho Freedom Foundation — a hardline conservative group that spent much of the 2021 session decrying social justice in education — called the UF 200 complaints a sign of a systemic problem.

“Why should we trust the administrators to conduct an ‘in depth review’ of their own university?” foundation education policy director Anna Miller wrote in March. “We don’t allow criminals to investigate themselves.”

While outside investigators said they did not specifically look at issues pertaining to HB 377 — which was introduced after the probe began — they also found no evidence of potential violations of the new law.

“No student specifically raised concerns about being indoctrinated or being instructed on the tenets of ‘critical race theory,’” the report said.

In a letter issued Monday morning, Tromp said she was pleased that investigators found no policy violations.

“At Boise State, we have always worked to innovate, learn, create and grow, even in tremendously challenging times,” she wrote. “With a clear focus on our students and meaningful dialogue, we will do so now.”