On March 16, 2021, Boise State University (BSU) suspended a course on ethics and diversity following political pressure from state lawmakers.
BSU’s President Marlene Tromp informed faculty and students of the suspension of 52 sections of their University Foundations 200 course, in which 1,300 students were enrolled. In the email, Tromp stated that the university was conducting a review of the course after receiving allegations that students were “humiliated and degraded” in the class “for their beliefs and values.” The decision to suspend the class came after a student reportedly recorded a Zoom discussion on white privilege in one of the course sections, during which a white student was allegedly uncomfortable, and sent the video to Idaho state legislators, who were reportedly outraged over the video.
At the time the video was sent to the legislators, they were considering a cut to the university’s budget — subsequently passed — of more than $400,000, specifically targeting the university’s social justice programs.
On March 27, BSU resumed the course.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a university class on the basis of thinly documented reports of student discomfort with, or reports of government objections to, course content. While Scholars at Risk welcomes the resumption of the course, even a brief suspension of a course based on apparently political objections to its content risks chilling academic expression on campus. While lawmakers must refrain from restricting the exercise of the right to academic freedom, universities must also take any available steps to protect and support the open exchange of ideas on campus, consistent with principles of academic freedom, university autonomy, and related university values.