Idaho State University officials say they’ve implemented a hiring slowdown and will dip into institutional reserves to absorb a $500,000 state-imposed funding cut during the current fiscal year.
The reduction is ISU’s share of a $2.5 million funding cut to state higher education budgets, which lawmakers imposed based in part on their belief that Idaho universities have been promoting a leftist agenda including “critical race theory.”
Using reserves will buy ISU time to “strategically identify where those reductions might be permanently made in the budget without impacting our academic mission and student services,” ISU President Kevin Satterlee said in written responses to Journal questions.
Critical race theory is an academic philosophy dating back decades examining how racism has shaped U.S. policy and institutions. The theory has been at the forefront of public debate ever since former President Donald Trump banned teaching it in trainings at the federal level, stating in a tweet that it is “toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanity under that brand category.”
The local concerns regarding the theory trace back to March, when Boise State University suspended several diversity courses in response to a complaint about a professor shaming a student for being white. Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, posted on social media that the situation was an admission that the theory was being taught on campus and that students were being targeted.
Nate reportedly advocated for an $18 million cut to BSU’s budget. The legislature ultimately cut $2.5 million from the overall higher education, including $1.5 million from BSU. An independent investigation by the Boise law firm Hawley Troxell subsequently determined the complaint was unfounded.
In his written comments, Satterlee said layoffs are not currently under consideration to help meet ISU’s cut, nor are travel restrictions.
Satterlee defended the curriculum at the Pocatello-based university, stating that ISU does not have a social justice agenda but rather focuses on its mission of educating students to help them think critically and form their own beliefs.
“It is the goal of higher education in Idaho to educate Idaho citizens, provide opportunities and experiences, without compelling students to affirm any particular belief,” Satterlee said. “We respect and welcome all people and support the First Amendment, the free and open exchange of ideas and civil discourse.”
Satterlee emphasized that ISU is educating future leaders who will need to understand differing viewpoints.
“Through the exchange of viewpoints, students learn to critically evaluate different stances, learn to have difficult conversations and reach a productive result,” Satterlee said. “Students may experience a variety of different points of view during their education. However, it is the role of higher education to teach students how to think, not what to think.”
In its Fiscal Year 2023 budgeting process, Satterlee said ISU will address planned budget deficits by pursuing revenue-generating opportunities and making “thoughtful” reductions in expenses. He said each unit of the university will submit a proposal, which will be deliberated by the Leadership Council, and he and his vice presidents will make final decisions.
Satterlee said ISU has not considered tuition rates for the 2022-2023 academic year. Though he acknowledged budget reductions place a burden on universities, he said ISU will stay focused on affordability for students.
The Idaho Falls Post Register staff contributed to this report.