A newly released independent investigation found no evidence to substantiate allegations of indoctrination happening at the University of Idaho.
The report, conducted by Boise-based law firm Hawley Troxell, looked into specific allegations that were published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation about the University of Idaho’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. It investigated whether the university was trying to impose “social justice ideologies” on its students and employees.
“After conducting our investigation, we were unable to substantiate the conclusions contained within the IFF report, including the allegations pertaining to UI having a systemic commitment to forcing social justice ideology upon its students,” the Dec. 17 report said. “While diversity and inclusion initiatives may be present at UI, we conclude that these initiatives do not rise to any level of impropriety as alleged by the IFF report.”
The Idaho Freedom Foundation report was published last year on its website, titled “Social justice ideology in Idaho higher education.” It was authored by Scott Yenor, a Boise State University professor who faced backlash after saying women shouldn’t be recruited into engineering, medical and law fields, and Anna Miller, education policy director at the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
The report makes several allegations, including that administrators had created a strategic plan for “realizing their commitment to pushing social justice activism in hiring, recruitment and culture building.” Other allegations said that the university hired a chief diversity officer in 2015 to “extend the reach of social justice ideology into all facets of the university,” and that social justice ideology plays a “significant part” in at least 14 departments at the university.
In conducting the independent investigation on the claims, investigators interviewed eight of the university’s faculty and administrators, including members of the president’s committee on diversity and inclusion. The firm also reviewed a “substantial” number of documents on the university’s policies, curriculum and accreditation standards.
“UI’s initiatives related to diversity and inclusion stem from independent factors and are not designed to indoctrinate anyone with social justice ideology, including students and university employees alike,” the report said. “Nor did we identify any evidence suggesting such indoctrination has taken place.”
University president questioned on social justice
University of Idaho President C. Scott Green pointed to the report during a meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, when he was asked by Rep. Ron Nate, a Rexburg Republican, what steps the university had taken to eliminate spending on social justice programs.
The line of questioning came after lawmakers cut $500,000 each from University of Idaho and Idaho State University budgets over fears they were teaching critical race theory and using other social justice programming. They also cut $1.5 million from Boise State’s budget.
Green said the university took the concerns of the Legislature seriously. He said he was confident there was no indoctrination occurring at the University of Idaho.
“And while I was confident of that, certain conflict entrepreneurs and those who earn their living by scaring people … have made these claims, which surfaced and were used to cut our budget last year,” he said. “We wanted to be sure and ensure that we were following Idaho law, in deed and in spirit.”
So, the university commissioned Hawley Troxell to conduct the investigation and make recommendations for how it could become more compliant, Green said.
“In short, the entire social justice narrative on which the university 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.
Nate had asked similar questions this week to other university presidents, including Boise State President Marlene Tromp.
Last year, Boise State also conducted an independent investigation into the claims against the university, using the same law firm. The firm released its Boise State report in May, and said it did not uncover “any evidence” implicating any instructor in a violation of the school’s nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy.
Over the past year, some lawmakers and elected officials have raised repeated concerns about indoctrination and social justice programming at universities. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill sparked by conversations about critical race theory.
The bill prohibited funding to schools that direct students to “affirm, adopt or adhere” to the idea that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is “inherently superior or inferior,” or that people of a certain race or identity are “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past.”
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin over the summer also created a task force to look into unsubstantiated claims of indoctrination in Idaho schools. During the task force’s four meetings, members heard primarily from those who supported its claims and ended its last meeting with a set of vague recommendations.
Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho Statesman in partnership with Report for America. The position is partly funded through community support. Click here to donate.