The debate over diversity and inclusionary efforts at Boise State University reached a low point this week with a cartoon postcard depicting new BSU President Marlene Tromp and others in the state education system as clowns.
We find it fitting that the “debate” has devolved to the level of silliness with this cartoon, because that’s what the debate is: silly.
It strikes us as odd that 28 Republican state legislators, spearheaded by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, signed off on a letter to Tromp, choosing this particular topic — BSU’s diversity and inclusionary programs — as a rallying cry to fix what ails higher education in Idaho.
First of all, arguments about wasting money are specious, at best. Programs that the legislators target, such as the gender equity center, Powwow, a “rainbow graduation” party and a black graduation party, are funded by student fees, to the tune of about $30,000. Eliminating these programs wouldn’t make a dent in tuition or in the amount of money the state Legislature appropriates for higher education. So we have to question legislators’ stated motives of making an effort to cut costs and reduce tuition for students.
If legislators’ concern is really about reducing inefficiency and lowering tuition at BSU, we find it disingenuous that they would choose to cite $30,000 in student fees. Would the legislators also shut down other graduation celebrations and clubs, such as the political science club or fraternity and sorority graduation celebrations?
It seems like something else is going on here.
At its heart, this argument is about the value of having diversity and inclusionary programs at BSU. The legislators clearly are arguing that they see no value in such programs; in fact, they argue that they are harmful and detrimental, that they in actuality further set apart minority and historically marginalized and oppressed communities.
To give these legislators the benefit of the doubt, one could say that they are not arguing against diversity and inclusion at BSU — they’re just saying it should happen naturally, without any sort of assistance, that in their ideal world, differences are not even acknowledged; you just show up to campus one day and there you have a representative cross-section of whites, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, gay, straight and transgender, not only among the student population but also among faculty, and that no one is discriminated against, profiled or marginalized.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that ideal world. Creating diversity and fostering inclusion requires concerted efforts to make it happen. And that’s why it’s necessary to have targeted scholarships, special liaisons and increased advertising budgets to seek out diverse job candidates. These programs recognize and acknowledge differences in race, gender and sexual orientation rather than pretend they don’t exist and should be ignored.
Increasing racial, cultural and gender diversity increases diversity of thinking, diversity of experiences and diversity of ideas, and that translates to increased educational rigor, which should be encouraged, not discouraged. Helping students cross that finish line to graduation benefits all of us and helps protect that investment that the state is making in the university and its students.
It’s not just universities that recognize the importance of promoting diversity and inclusiveness. Businesses recognize that it’s good for the bottom line, too. A recent workplace study by Deloitte showed that an increase in diversity and inclusiveness led to a marked and measurable increase in innovation, team performance, collaboration and financial performance. The study looked at companies such as Qantas airlines, Samsung, Apple and a host of Fortune 500 companies. Among the study’s conclusions, “Diversity + inclusion = better business outcomes.”
To cite Ehardt’s own words in her letter to Tromp, “I don’t view the current direction of Boise State to be in the tradition of what higher education has been,” we couldn’t agree more. Higher education has traditionally not been inclusive or diverse, to the point of being downright hostile and exclusive to minority students and faculty. The programs that the legislators are decrying are working to reverse that tradition.
We support BSU’s diversity and inclusion efforts and programs, and we find the legislators’ attack on such efforts to be counterproductive, misguided and a waste of time. We call on Gov. Brad Little and the silent legislators — those who didn’t sign Ehardt’s letter — to stand with President Tromp and allow her to do the job she was hired to do in the manner in which she sees fit.