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UI budget was cut last year based on 'false narrative,' President Scott Green tells JFAC

"The entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho was penalized $500,000 was a false narrative created by conflict entrepreneurs …" Green said.

BOISE, Idaho — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

University of Idaho President Scott Green offered a powerful takedown of “social justice” criticisms of higher education fanned by the Idaho Freedom Foundation during his budget presentation to lawmakers this morning, saying an extensive investigation found no evidence for any of the IFF’s claims. “In short, 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 declared. He said the full, unredacted and unedited investigation report will be made available to the public and to lawmakers today.

His comments came in response to questioning by Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, who said, “Same question I asked the other university presidents: Last year, we reduced the increase in university and college budgets by $2.5 million, with clear intent language to eliminate wasteful spending on diversity, equity and social justice programming. What specific steps has the University of Idaho taken to follow that intent language? I think $500,000 of it was directly for the University of Idaho.”

Green responded, “Thank you for your question. So we looked for the intent language you cited, and we found some language in some of the bills that were killed last year, but we couldn’t find it in the bill that was passed. But from talking to some of your peers, I understand it was deemed unnecessary because of the passage of HB 377.”

HB 377 prohibited indoctrination of students in Idaho public schools or colleges with tenets the bill ascribed to critical race theory, including that a particular race or sex was superior. In addition, HB 387, the higher education budget bill that passed after a long fight last year, has a note in its Statement of Purpose saying, that the appropriation includes “reduction of $2,500,000 to remove state support for social justice programming at Boise State University, Idaho State University, and University of Idaho.” Nate has since sought to portray that as forbidding any activities regarding diversity, equity or inclusion, common workplace goals common workplace goals touted by everyone from corporate CEOs to business schools as best practices for managing workplaces; he’s been claiming those principles are the same a critical race theory, which is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism that critics decry as in itself racist. 

“So regardless, we did take your concerns about social justice indoctrination seriously,” Green told Nate. “To the great credit of our Legislature, HB 377 protects academic freedom and freedom of speech, thus protecting Idaho’s colleges and universities from government making decisions about what can and cannot be taught.”

“It is the central committees and politburos of the present and past in communist countries that dictate what can and can’t be taught, primarily to maintain power,” Green said, “and they also would not want social justice or humanitarian subjects to be taught either.”

“So we appreciate the protections afforded by HB 377. But that law also forbids another tool used by central committees and politburos in countries past and present, and ensures no one can require students to affirm, adopt or adhere to any specific belief. In short, it takes away the tool of indoctrination.”

“I was confident there was no indoctrination or affirmation program at the University of Idaho,” Green told JFAC. “And while I was confident of that, certain conflict entrepreneurs and those who earn their living by scaring people with such illusions have made these claims, which surfaced and were used to cut our budget last year.”

“We wanted to be sure, and ensure, that we were following Idaho law in deed and in spirit,” the university president said. “So we commissioned the law firm of Hawley Troxell to conduct an a independent investigation into the allegations that were surfaced here in the Legislature, primarily through a document published by the affiliate of the Idaho Freedom Foundation titled ‘Social Justice in Idaho Higher Education,’ authored by Boise State Professor Scott Yenor and IFF analyst Anna Miller. We asked Hawley Troxell, arguably the gold standard for law firms in Idaho, to evaluate, substantiate if possible the claims made in the report, and provide recommended adjustments to our processes to correct anything that was substantiated.”

“In other words, we asked them to conduct independent investigation under professional code of conduct and make recommendation on how we can become most compliant,” Green told JFAC. “I quote the conclusions of the investigation verbatim here: ‘After conducting our investigation, we were unable to substantiate the conclusions contained within the IFF report, including the allegations pertaining to the University of Idaho having a systemic commitment to forcing social justice ideology upon its students.’”

“In short, 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. “We will make full, unredacted, unedited investigative report, we’ll make it available to you and the public today.”

Nate responded, “President Green, the University of Idaho has previously hired a director of engineering diversity for the College of Engineering, that cost them over $140,000. The University of Idaho’s Office of Equity and Diversity states the Office of Equity and Diversity engages in social justice advocacy through policy implementation, programs and services. I think that’s evidence right there that the University of Idaho is not devoid of critical race theory and social justice programming. Any efforts to reduce expenses on these programmings?”

Green said, “I will respond to that, if you don’t mind, Mr. Chairman, Rep. Nate. Again, we had Hawley Troxell take a look at that. … It does refer to that position in engineering. The IFF report references the college’s appointment of a director of engineering diversity, the establishment of an endowment to support diversity and inclusive initiatives. The investigation did substantiate that an endowment exists. According to witnesses, the endowment was established by Micron, one of Idaho’s largest employers, and was granted by Micron with the express condition that it be used to promote these initiatives. Micron appears to be of the opinion that these initiatives and skills are essential to its workers, many of whom it recruits from the University of Idaho’s College of Engineering.”

“Thus, regarding the College of Engineering’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, it appears there are several independent justifications to maintain such plans, including maintaining accreditation standards and appealing to the college’s stakeholders and donors,” Green said “We found no evidence that the College of Engineering reserves research opportunities or other resources for minorities or women, and no evidence that non-minority students are excluded in any capacity.”

JFAC then moved on to other questions for Green, during with Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, said he took it upon himself this fall to visit all four of Idaho’s public universities to “get a sense of the universities and what they were about.” He was impressed not only with each of their offerings but with their strong support from their communities, he said. “What I came away with was, if we don’t support our universities in this state, if you can’t see that the state, the Legislature supports our universities, then why would companies want to locate here? Because we set the tone for what our state is all about. And our universities are a shining example of what we produce here in this state. So with that, I’d just like to congratulate all of them on what a good job they do.”

After Green’s opening comments and overview of the university’s budget, various divisions and programs that fall under the UI, from agricultural research to medical education, made detailed budget presentations to the joint committee that drew intense interest from lawmakers. After that, Green returned to the podium and offered some closing comments.

“At the University of Idaho, we believe we’ve made an awful lot of progress, and we really truly believe that we are a university on the rise,” he told lawmakers. “We rank among the top public universities in the U.S., as I’ve mentioned, and we’re really proud of that fact that we’re the No. 1 best value of any public university in the West for two years running.”

“I’m the 5th generation of my family to live and work in Idaho,” he said. “Our roots trace back to a dryland farm in McCammon, Idaho. My grandfather was a first-generation college student. He caught a freight train to Moscow and thanks to a football scholarship was educated at the University of Idaho. That education changed the trajectory of his life and all those that followed him.”

“He used to say to me that you can rise up and be illuminated, or stand still and be eliminated. He also taught me to respectfully speak truth to power,” Green said. “As a proud third-generation Vandal, I want you to know I would never stand for indoctrination of any kind on our campus.”

“Education, yes. Even subjects in which you and I may not like,” he said. “And whether you are a Republican or Democrat, conservative or a liberal, there will always be something that is taught at a university that we may not agree with. But education, yes. Indoctrination, affirmation, no. Not on our campus.”

“It is an honor, truly an honor to lead Idaho’s land grant university,” Green said. “A university that traces its roots to the Morrill Act that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. The university that my grandfather, my father and I all graduated from. … Together, the Legislature and the University of Idaho are committed to providing opportunities to our citizens that will benefit our entire state. We ask that you continue to support our university, and in return we’ll continue to provide the great value and return on investment for which we are known.”

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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