Ethics and Diversity Course on Hold

Boise State halts a diversity course for 1,300 students midsemester over a rumored video of a student being “humiliated” for being white. The university hasn't seen the video, but the course was already under scrutiny from state lawmakers.

March 18, 2021
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Boise State University suddenly suspended all 52 sections of a required general education course on ethics this week over concerns about it, including that a student in one section had been "degraded."

The course, University Foundations 200, has been running since 2012, according to information from the university. UF 200 concerns ethics and diversity and is described as challenging students "to inquire into key ethical ideas and values together, giving equal voice to all who are committed to the public good." Individual course section topics differ and include moral problems, moral courage, censorship, the ethics of food, folklore, deviance and human rights. Thirteen hundred students are enrolled and therefore affected by the jarring decision.

The university informed the campus of the change this week via email. President Marlene Tromp wrote that “we have been made aware of a series of concerns, culminating in allegations that a student or students have been humiliated and degraded in class on our campus for their beliefs and values.”

This is “never acceptable; it is not what Boise State stands for; and we will not tolerate this behavior,” Tromp said. “In conjunction with academic leadership, we will determine next steps over the coming week to ensure that everyone is still able to complete the course, and we will communicate with all students in these classes.”

An in-depth review of the course was already under way, Tromp said, but “we must be responsive to these specific allegations and ensure that this and all our courses live up to this standard of mutual respect.”

The university has created “purpose-specific mid-term evaluations” for students currently in the course. As always, Tromp wrote, students “have multiple options for reporting instructor bias, including anonymous reporting.”

Tromp said she and colleagues consulted with leaders of the Faculty Senate and the diversity course, among other faculty members, about the decision. The Senate’s president and vice president did not respond to a request for comment.

Several other faculty members did not respond to interview requests or said they could not comment until they were given permission to do so by the university communications office. Some other professors expressed confusion about the change on social media. One faculty member, who quickly deleted his comments, wrote on Twitter that he’d been told a student “taped a Zoom discussion on white privilege, in which apparently a white student was made to feel uncomfortable, and sent video to ID state legislature, who are ‘enraged.’ BSU suspended all UF 200 classes mid semester as a result.”

The professor said that he didn’t teach any of the diversity courses at Boise State, “but I’ve taught many like them before at other institutions and I know how valuable they are to students and campus community.”

He also said that the state Legislature and a group called the Idaho Freedom Foundation “have been requesting syllabi for years now, looking for something they can use to force the removal of anything related to [diversity and inclusion], and they think they have it.”

The Idaho Freedom Foundation said on its website Wednesday that "UF 200, otherwise known as Foundations in Ethics and Diversity, is among four mandatory general education courses that are infused with social justice, a toxic ideology that has captured many facets of life at Boise State."

The "degrading" video, if it exists, has not been widely circulated. University spokesperson Mike Sharp said that “we have not seen the video” but that the university was pausing the course amid ongoing concerns about it.

The state Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted earlier this month to cut $409,000 from Boise State’s budget, with members alleging that the university was pursuing an expensive social justice agenda.

On Wednesday, the state Senate passed a higher education budget including those cuts. Senator Carl Crabtree, a Republican, said during the vote that the budget will require state institutions to report all spending on social justice initiatives, and that “They’re going to get the message,” according to Idaho Ed News.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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