U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently called out Boise State University, among other colleges, for suppressing free speech.
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
BSU’s official response noted that it had worked with the ACLU and the Idaho Freedom Foundation to revise its free expression policies. The response implied Sessions’ remarks were unfounded.
What BSU did not mention was, prior to working with IFF, the foundation and other organizations threatened legal action against the school. Why? Because in May 2014 BSU attempted to assess a $465 security fee on Young Americans for Liberty for bringing a pro-Second Amendment speaker to campus. Yes, merely talking about gun rights was provocative enough to warrant charging a student group a fee that it could ill-afford. Ultimately, BSU backed down.
BSU is again a battlefield for free speech and diversity of opinion on campus.
This year, administrators, along with students and faculty, have attacked BSU Professor Scott Yenor’s published work for The Heritage Foundation and the Daily Signal. The attacks appear to be part of a coordinated campus effort to isolate and bully him and silence any student or faculty member who might agree with his defense of parental rights.
Corey Cook, dean of the School of Public Service, initially supported Yenor’s rights to free expression, then backed away in a meandering Facebook post. Cook stated that Yenor’s work was inconsistent with BSU’s core values. Cook then stood back while a torrent of abuse was directed at Yenor.
Using extreme language, director of Diversity and Inclusion Franscisco Salinas denounced Yenor’s Daily Signal article. Salinas opined: “Not every person who agrees with Yenor’s piece is likely to become an espoused Neo-Nazi, but likely every Neo-Nazi would agree with the substance of Yenor’s piece.”
Salinas’ inflammatory remarks were posted on a School of Public Service Facebook page. Students piled on. Some called for the professor’s ouster and claimed, “Scott Yenor has blood on his hands.”
School of Social Work faculty issued a statement in the student paper likening Yenor’s argument to a defense of “intimate partner violence, sexual assault, oppression, rejection, and hatred.”
A Faculty Senate motion, not yet adopted, insisted that Yenor “should not have published and publicized his opinions as a representative of our institution.” The motion suggests that Boise State create forums where fellow faculty members could examine an academic’s work. Are they suggesting a censorship committee?
When such anti-academic mentalities arise on private universities such as Middlebury or Williams, state legislatures have few levers to ensure academic freedom or intellectual diversity. Not so with public universities.
The way forward in Idaho is clear.
First, the governor should not recommend nor should the Legislature appropriate the hoped-for $2.1 million expansion of the BSU School of Public Service. The treatment of Professor Yenor must not be rewarded.
Second, the Idaho State Board of Education and the Legislature should target diversity-education monies at all public universities. By doing so, they would follow the lead of state legislatures, such as in Tennessee, Wisconsin and Missouri, that are enacting reform of their government universities via the budget process.
Finally, Idaho legislators should take after Arizona and other states, which have made it a priority to understand the burgeoning left-wing academic hegemony. Academic clusters should be established that are dedicated to providing intellectual balance on campuses.
Idaho’s governor and Legislature can help restore the state’s campuses to bastions of intellectual freedom. Do they have the will?
Fred Birnbaum is vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.