Barely on the job two weeks as the new Boise State president, Marlene Tromp must have been at least a bit surprised when a letter landed on her desk from half the Republicans in the Idaho House telling her, in effect, to “go easy” on pushing campus diversity and inclusion.
The new president, up from California, then must have done a second double take when a second letter arrived from legislative Democrats telling her just the opposite.
As the students would say, wazz-up with that? Where have I landed? Simple, madam president, you’re not in California any more, but rock-ribbed, spud-landia.
It’s Trump Country out there once you get outta Boise city, up past Micron Hill and out into the high desert, or north past the foothills to Horseshoe Bend and beyond.
The first letter, brought by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, had 27 other House member signees. It probably would have had more than that if it hadn’t been parroting the Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose director, Wayne Hoffman, recently opined on the perils of BSU’s campus diversity. (Hoffman recently also suggested Idaho government get out of the education business entirely.)
Tromp issued a mild-mannered, inclusive response to the GOP letter, making soothing noises about improving dialogue, yada, yada with the group. Nicely done, probably with some suggested phrasing from cool BSU veterans who’ve been traipsing over to the Capitol for annual appropriations for years.
Ah, yes, the Capitol. Idaho Republicans outnumber Democrats four to one in the Legislature, and it can’t have escaped her notice that two of the signees are in House leadership.
A sizable group of the signees are on the House Education Committee, where I served for two terms, suggesting a cool welcome indeed when she appears before them next session. She’ll have to both string the fence and repair it at the same time. Good luck with getting ropes on these rambling, bawling cattle.
To some degree, Tromp should have seen this coming. In her previous positions at University of California Santa Cruz, and Arizona State University, she was involved in various diversity initiatives. Those are prominently featured on her resume (correction, “curriculum vitae,” as they say on campus).
She got glowing reviews from on-campus faculty at her BSU interviews, and has reportedly said she considers social justice issues particularly important. These are sure red flags to many who are rightfully suspicious of non-merit based political correctness which infects much of American life and academics.
Let’s hope some wise heads give her the lay of the land in Idaho, or in one rendition, how the cow ate the cabbage. The 28 House signees represent a variety of districts, from suburban Boise to sprawling rural ones of back-country towns and natural resource economies. They don’t represent the whole Legislature, but their letter is a warning shot to be considered.
As it has come of age under the previous president, Bob Kustra, Boise State has indeed improved on many fronts -- not just in football. It’s one of fastest growing “urban” universities in the nation, and its reputation academically is improving markedly. It’s a top college pick now for Idaho high school seniors.
But it has also begun to “tilt” leftward among its academic faculty, a trend noticed uptown at the Capitol. There was at least one recent incident in 2017, where “diversity” forces on campus tried to silence the conservative perspectives of a well-regarded scholar/professor, Scott Yenor. That effort was written about in national magazines as an example of infectious political correctness in American universities.
Tromp comes from small-town Wyoming (Green River) and is the first in her family to go to college, much less to rise as she has in academia. But those roots won’t help her if she gets cross-wise with the broad base of Idaho constituents and their elected representatives. She’ll need more than soothing words to get off on the right foot.
Idaho’s public universities have had mixed leadership in the recent past. Both Boise State and Idaho State University are transitioning to new leadership after longtime previous stability. The University of Idaho also has a new president, the fifth or so in 20 years. The tenure of college presidents has shortened nationally, and Boise State’s search was protracted and seemingly confused at several points.
The decision to hire Tromp was made by a state Board of Education that hasn’t always had an easy time before the Legislature. The road ahead for Tromp may smooth out but, for now, there are surely some rocks ahead.