BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
Boise State University President Marlene Tromp faced questioning about the university’s fees, staff positions related to “inclusion and belonging,” and payments to speakers during her presentation to state budget writers Tuesday. In many cases, Tromp did not have the information lawmakers were looking for.
The state’s largest university is requesting $124,706,900 from the state general fund this year.
Additionally, Tromp supported the governor’s proposed 4% increase of state employee compensation, which she said “will help us retain our most valuable asset, our employees.”
Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, repeatedly questioned Tromp about a newly created position at the university with the title “vice provost for inclusion and belonging.” The position, which has not yet been filled, will be tasked with “leading and coordinating the efforts in Academic Affairs to support a richly diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all students, staff, and faculty,” the university website states.
Adams noted that in 2021, the Legislature cut $2.5 million from the higher education budget to remove “social justice spending” at BSU, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho.
He said he didn’t feel the action had “any demonstrated effect.”
Adams said that he found a number of employee positions with descriptions that related to “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“What is the intent of having so many of that genre of employee?” Adams asked.
Tromp said the position is designed to improve success of all students, including rural and first-generation ones.
Tromp gave as an example a faculty member who may be coming from a large East Coast city who may not be prepared to teach students from rural communities.
“We want to retain our students, increase their academic success, and this role will help us do that,” she said.
She and university Provost John Buckwalter did not have salary information for the position when questioned by Adams.
Rep. Wendy Horman questioned why there was a large fee increase recently.
“It’s well known that this Legislature is concerned about the affordability of college education in Idaho, and I think some of us were very caught off guard by the extent to which fees were increased,” Horman said.
Tromp said that students voted to increase technology fees to support “flexible models of education” as well as additional fees to improve access to mental health support.
She also faced questions about how much the university pays to speakers, from Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, who noted the recent appearance by author Ibram X Kendi. Herndon also asked for spending on Boise State Public Radio, which is rolled into the university’s budget.
She did not immediately have the information available for committee members.
Rep. Josh Tanner, R-Eagle, asked for details on requests for one-time funding on replacement of equipment and items.
The university requested an additional $1.85 million for the replacement of vehicles, lab equipment, floor care, audio visual equipment and computer equipment, according to the budget book. Another $1.42 million request was made for forklifts, trucks, tools, photocopiers and lawn equipment.
“Those numbers are huge,” Tanner said. “I mean, how many vehicles are we actually trying to purchase? And what are we actually trying to do with this money?”
As part of the university’s request, BSU asked for $445,400 in general funds for “general inflation,” according to the Legislative Budget Book, and another $128,900 for “contract inflation for the increased cost of library subscriptions.”
Gov. Brad Little in his budget proposal recommended a total of about $5.9 million for flexible spending for each institution to replace items, address inflation and change employee compensation. Of that total, approximately $2.14 million would go to BSU.
In her presentation, Tromp lauded the university for its successes including growing enrollment of Idaho students by 20% this year, improving success in early math and English courses, and increasing the number of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, degrees awarded.
She also discussed a new science building that is in the pre-planning stages, which will address teaching lab capacity issues.
Tromp described BSU as having the “most efficient degree delivery program in the state” and said it awards more bachelor’s degrees than all other public universities combined.
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
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