Fifth District Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, said the letter he and 27 other Idaho Republican lawmakers signed July 9 to new Boise State University President Marlene Tromp should have centered on the issue of high tuition costs instead of criticizing the school’s diversity programs.
In retrospect, Goesling said he wishes he would have drafted his own letter or asked Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who drafted the letter, to focus on higher education costs and funding.
“This thing is really not about diversity, not about inclusion,” Goesling said.
The lawmakers’ letter, while directed to Tromp, was in response to BSU Interim President Martin Schimpf’s June 4 newsletter to “colleagues, friends and students.”
Schimpf’s letter addresses the university’s current and future efforts on inclusiveness, including addressing gender-based violence, assisting underrepresented minority students and boosting diversity in the school’s workforce and student body.
The lawmakers’ letter states creating “a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students.” The letter listed examples of BSU initiatives that are “antithetical to the Idaho way” and diversity programs that increase tuition rates.
Goesling said during his five years on the Idaho State Board of Education, he recognized a pattern of overspending at BSU. He said that pattern continues.
From 2013 to 2018, BSU executive and administration costs have increased 38.1 percent, while full-time equivalent students only increased 1.4 percent during that time, Goesling said. He said the school is overstaffing its departments.
The ratio was more even for University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College.
He said UI executive and administrative costs increased 9.8 percent from 2013 to 2018, while full-time equivalent students dropped 9.5 percent during that time. ISU’s costs increased 9 percent, while its enrollment declined 8.3 percent. LCSC’s costs spiked 9.9 percent, while its enrollment dropped 6.8 percent.
Goesling questioned some of BSU’s diversity programs and goals, like the Million Dollar Scholars program partnering with the Commonwealth Mariana Islands to bring its students to BSU; working to recruit a sorority and/or fraternity to campus that would focus on service to the black community; and providing $30,000 in annual support for multicultural student events like Rainbow Graduation and Black Graduation.
“I’m thinking, wait a minute. We went through all this to bring us all together,” Goesling said. “Now you’re starting to peel things off. That’s not inclusive. That’s excluding and that’s back to, in a sense, you’re segregating out groups of people. When do you stop?”
Goesling said the programs and initiatives he previously mentioned drive tuition up and further burden taxpayers. He said he wants to protect taxpayers’ money and ensure that UI and K-12 schools in the 5th District, which includes Latah and Benewah counties, get their fair share.
“We worked very hard to bring everybody together from the ’60s, ’70s (and) ’80, and now all of a sudden we have to have these separate type of situations,” he said. “Well, that just rubs me wrong.”
Fellow 5th District Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, said although she had not read the lawmakers’ letter, it sounded like a document she would not feel comfortable signing from how it was explained to her. Troy was in Canada for business for part of the week.
“I don’t know that it’s the legislator’s job to tell a university how to do their business,” Troy said.
She said diversity is a university value and how that is reflected in each institution needs to be determined by that university.
Troy said she received a handful of emails from constituents saying they were glad she did not sign the letter and were disappointed Goesling did.
“I found him to be a really conscientious legislator,” Troy said of Goesling. “He is not a racist bigot by any stretch of the imagination.”
Fifth District Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, said via text message he was surprised Goesling signed the letter. He said equality, inclusion and diversity are Idaho values and he hopes and expects they are Goesling’s beliefs as well.
“The letter is a distraction from what the legislature needs to work on,” Nelson wrote. “We need to improve our higher education system and work on getting our students educated for higher paying jobs and not saddled with (debt).”
He said Idaho invested 14 percent of its state budget in higher education 25 years ago, and now it invests about 8 percent.
“We need more investment in education for the future of Idaho,” Nelson wrote.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.