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State Board unveils campus diversity and inclusion policy

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Posted at 7:41 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 21:41:43-04

This article was originally published by Kevin Richert in Idaho Ed News.

Responding to what it called “unfounded allegations of systematic indoctrination,” the State Board took a first look at a college and university diversity and inclusion policy.

Monday’s meeting sets the stage for a board vote in August. Potentially, it also pits Gov. Brad Little’s board appointees against conservative critics of the state’s higher education system — including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is running for governor and positioning for a likely showdown with Little in the May GOP primary.

“We really care about protecting freedom of speech and freedom of expression on our college campuses,” State Board President Kurt Liebich said during a brief discussion Monday afternoon. “We’re trying to make our institutions as diverse as our great state is.”

The State Board policy would cover the state’s public four-year institutions: Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College. Under the proposed policy, “Each institution shall strive to create environments in which diversity and inclusion are valued, promoted, and embraced, in alignment with the goal of achieving educational equity.”

Also telling was the board’s background summary of the issue, including in the materials for Monday’s meeting.

“This policy is the result of Board discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the public school system in response to unfounded allegations of systematic indoctrination occurring at the four-year public postsecondary institutions in Idaho.”

On a unanimous vote, the board approved the policy on first reading Monday. That’s essentially a procedural vote; the board could vote to adopt the policy at its August meeting. In the meantime, the board will take public comments at board@osbe.idaho.gov.

The proposal underscores the Idaho GOP’s widening intraparty split on education policy and campus politics:

  • This spring, the Republican-dominated Legislature cut $2.5 million from the higher education budget — with lawmakers saying they wanted to deliver a message about social justice programs at Boise State, the U of I and Idaho State. Lawmakers also passed a bill to outlaw indoctrination in K-12 and higher education, despite Little’s reservations. But during an April meeting, and in a discussion that gave birth to the proposed diversity and inclusion policy, State Board members said they had seen no evidence of indoctrination in schools.
  • Little’s State Board doubled down Thursday. Liebich issued a statement saying he has “not seen any evidence of indoctrination in our public education system” — as McGeachin ­met at the Statehouse with a hand-picked task force looking at indoctrination issues. The task force will meet again on July 22.

McGeachin chief of staff Jordan Watters attended Monday’s meeting, but offered no comment on the State Board proposal. “I’m just here to represent the office,” said Watters, before going into a meeting with State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman.

Republican state superintendent’s candidate Branden Durst said the board was capitulating to liberals — and called out State Board member and 2022 GOP primary foe Debbie Critchfield.

“Critchfield is running as a Republican, but seems to be disinterested in the very real concerns so many Idahoans, especially Republicans, have about the indoctrination of students and the use of taxpayer dollars to do it,” Durst said in a news release.

Board approves U of I law school lease

In other business Monday, the State Board unanimously approved a lease agreement to expand the U of I’s Boise footprint.

The U of I has the go-ahead to lease the former Concordia University law school building in Downtown Boise. The $600,000-a-year lease will allow the U of I to leave its current law school site at the old Ada County Courthouse.

President C. Scott Green said the lease could allow the U of I to serve 90 students per year in Boise, up from its current enrollment of 60. The increased enrollment would cover lease payments, and make improvements at its Moscow campus as well.