That course Boise State suspended? An Idaho legislator made the complaint, email shows

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Posted at 12:53 PM, Jun 11, 2021

This article was originally written by Ian Max Stevenson for the Idaho Statesman.

The source of the complaint that led Boise State University to suspend all 55 sections of a required diversity course in March was an Idaho state legislator, according to an email obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

The university suspended all sections of University Foundations 200, a course with nearly 1,300 students enrolled, after learning of an allegation that a student — or students — was humiliated and degraded in class for being white, according to a report.

The classes were reinstated a week later, and the school hired a Boise law firm, Hawley Troxell, to conduct an independent investigation. The firm’s report, released May 24, did not find evidence substantiating any allegation from a “complainant,” as referred to in the law firm’s report, who said he had seen video of a student being harassed.

Though the complainant is not named in the report, the law firm did identify the person with the pronoun “he.”

In an email to colleagues on March 15, Tony Roark, the university’s interim provost, wrote that the University Foundations 200 course would be suspended “pending an investigation of serious allegations of classroom misconduct conveyed to Dr. Tromp by a legislator,” referring to BSU President Marlene Tromp.

In an interview with the Statesman in May, Tromp declined to reveal the identity of the “complainant,” saying only that “it is a person who is very broadly respected, and whose words we took seriously.”

Since then, the university has also declined to identify the person who caused the course to be suspended.

“Boise State University has never confirmed identifying details of the complainant,” Mike Sharp, a spokesperson for the university, told the Statesman by email. “It is our policy to protect the identity of complainants and the individuals identified in their reports from public disclosure so as not to discourage individuals from reporting concerns.”

Sharp also said the decision to suspend the course was made by “the President, Provost, Faculty Senate Leadership, University Foundations leadership, University Curriculum Committee leadership, and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies.”

In its investigation, Hawley Troxell uncovered an incident in which a student reportedly called her instructor’s logic “stupid” during a Zoom discussion, which some other students in the class interpreted as a personal attack. After other students “began calling her out” in the Zoom meeting’s chat feature, the instructor intervened, telling the class she felt the student’s comment had not been ad hominem but rather about an argument the instructor had made. In that instance, the firm determined that the instructor had responded “appropriately.”

Hawley Troxell wrote in its report that the incident did not match the allegation that prompted the university’s suspension of the course. The law firm said the conversation in that class had not been about “white privilege,” as originally alleged, and no student had been taunted or demeaned.

“We cannot confirm that the two incidents are the same,” the firm wrote.

During its investigation, the firm spoke with the complaining state legislator “after several failed attempts.”

“The Complainant reported being aware of multiple inappropriate interactions between BSU instructors and students,” the report stated. “However, 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 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.”