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U of I president says accusation of school pushing social justice agenda is false, ‘created by conflict entrepreneurs’

Politics

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President Scott Green fired back at critics Friday, saying the University of Idaho has been falsely accused of pushing a social justice agenda.

And as Green made his remarks to legislative budget-writers, the U of I released an independent report that dismissed claims of a “systemic commitment to forcing social justice ideology upon (U of I) students.”

Green’s remarks — and the release of the December report — come as higher education leaders are gearing up for another budget battle. Last spring, legislators cut $2.5 million from the higher ed budget, including $500,000 from the U of I’s bottom line, saying they wanted universities to rein in diversity programs.

“The entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho was penalized $500,000 was a false narrative, created by conflict entrepreneurs who make their living sowing fear and doubt with legislators and voters,” Green said during a Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee hearing Friday morning.

While Green did not identify “conflict entrepreneurs” by name, the Boise law firm Hawley Troxell took a more direct tack. Its 26-page report on U of I social justice programs was more direct. The 26-page report responded at length to a February 2021 white paper on social justice programs, co-written by Boise State University professor Scott Yenor and Idaho Freedom Foundation analyst Anna Miller.

“While diversity and inclusion initiatives may be present at UI, we conclude that these initiatives do not rise to any level of impropriety as alleged by the IFF report,” Hawley Troxell said in its conclusion.

The Freedom Foundation report and the Hawley Troxell response were points of reference in Friday’s JFAC hearing.

Pressing Green for specifics on social justice programs, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, cited two initiatives outlined in the Freedom Foundation report: an office of equity and diversity that “engages in social justice advocacy,” and a director of engineering diversity under the College of Engineering.

“The entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho was penalized $500,000 was a false narrative, created by conflict entrepreneurs who make their living sowing fear and doubt with legislators and voters.”

One JFAC member objected to Nate’s question, but Green answered anyway, focusing on the engineering college hire. Citing Hawley Troxell’s report, Green said Micron Technology funded the endowed position — with the direct intent that the money would support diversity efforts.

Green then quoted directly from the report: “Micron appears to be of the opinion that these initiatives and skills are essential to its workers, many of whom it recruits from UI’s College of Engineering.”

This is the second time Hawley Troxell has weighed into the debate over campus politics. Last spring, the firm said it found no evidence of wrongdoing at Boise State University, after an unnamed legislator alleged that students in a required diversity class were harassed because of their personal beliefs and values.

And Friday marked the third time Nate pressed presidents on the social justice issue. On Tuesday, he grilled Boise State President Marlene Tromp, seeking specifics on spending cuts in social justice. On Thursday, he posed the same question to Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee.

RELATED | Idaho House rushes to OK bill against ‘critical race theory’ ahead of education budgets

The exchange between Nate and Green punctuated an otherwise low-key budget hearing.

Green touted Gov. Brad Little’s proposed 5% pay raise for all state employees, including college and university employees. The U of I would need to increase tuition to full fund the plan, Green said, but the 5% raise is sorely needed. “In this labor market, we struggle to pay competitive salaries.”

Green also touted a $1.1 million proposal for a joint nuclear program, which the U of I and Idaho State would offer in Idaho Falls.

Several lawmakers praised Green Friday.

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, applauded Green for erasing the $20 million shortfall he inherited when he was hired in 2019. “I just wanted to thank you for that effort.”

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, offered a more general endorsement of higher education.

“If we don’t support our universities in our state … then why would companies want to come here?” he said. “We set the tone for what our state is all about.”

Green’s presentation wrapped up a week of higher education budget discussions in JFAC. In the next few weeks, the House-Senate committee will write a higher education budget bill, considering Little’s request to boost general fund spending by 7.1%, or $22.3 million.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on January 28, 2022

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