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Following up on BSU


Too many people in politics today count on a lack of follow-up: The people who lob poorly-founded charges like hand grenades out the back of a truck hurtling down the highway, depend on people never cottoning to the fact that they’re fake.

One of the instances this week (yes, there are more than just the one) in Idaho involves the social justice indoctrination underway at Boise State University … supposedly.

The subject of the complaint concerned a group of courses under the umbrella of University Foundations 200, which does concern an array of social issues. The (badly misnamed) Idaho Freedom Foundation alleged in March “Boise State students are speaking out about how they are silenced and demoralized by activists on campus. The university’s response raises a question: How extensive is the social justice rot? … This ideology asserts that all whites and especially males as oppressors, and that racial minorities are permanent victims. Social Justice institutions like Boise State then construct an environment that seeks to shame and vent hatred on the oppressors and elevate and insulate the oppressed from any kind of criticism.”

The basis of this was a complaint from one person (not a BSU student or employee) who claims to have seen a video on someone else’s cell phone, the source of which is unknown and which hasn’t been seen since, and which has been confirmed by no one and nothing. On the basis of that, a large chunk of the Idaho legislature declared war on higher education in the state.

In the current legislature they had enough pull to cut into state university budgets, and threaten much more damage to come. The next session, after all, is only seven months away. (Or maybe just a few weeks, if the House majority sees fit.)

BSU administration, faced with all that, asked for an independent investigation of whether the charges were true. That inquiry was done by Hawley Troxell, for generations one of Idaho’s top law firms and among its most respected. Its final report was delivered on May 19.

It clarified where the allegations came from: “Specifically, on March 15, 2021, BSU was contacted by a concerned community leader (the ‘Complainant’) who is not a student at BSU. The Complainant reported having viewed a video from a friend’s phone in which a Caucasian student was singled out by an instructor in a BSU class and was mistreated and demeaned.”

Hawley Troxell interviewed the complainant, 30 students (after soliciting comments and complaints from hundreds) and many instructors and other people besides. It found:

“After conducting a thorough and independent investigation, we were unable to substantiate the alleged instance of a student being mistreated in a UF 200 course as described by the Complainant. No students reported being forced to apologize for the color of their skin. Nor did any student report being personally singled out based on skin color or being subjected to taunts, name-calling, or other degrading behavior from an instructor or other students based on skin color, beliefs, or ideas.”

Nor, generally, did they “uncover any evidence of conduct on the part of a BSU instructor that would, in our opinion, constitute a violation of BSU’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy or that would otherwise constitute mistreatment of a student.”

So far, we’ve heard crickets from the legislators so quick to condemn Boise State that they were willing to cut its budget on the basis of an unsubstantiated rumor. (The “Freedom Foundation” replied that still more investigations are needed, the better to keep the pot stirred.)

What ought to be obvious here is that none of this had much of anything to do with any actual wrongdoing by instructors at BSU. It has to do with ginning up controversy, getting people angry, finding a new outrage of the week to stoke the culture wars.

That’s the nature of our politics these days.

We should – as our system in criminal law is supposed to do – pay less attention to the charge and more to the findings.

What Idaho has now is little more than a prescription for accelerating anger and chaos.

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