What We Must Learn from the Boise State HoaxBreaking News
tags: academic freedom, teaching history, critical race theory
John K. Wilson was a 2019-20 fellow with the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, and is the author of eight books, including Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies.
On March 16, 2021, Boise State University ordered the suspension of fifty-five classes enrolling more than 1,299 students in its required course, UF 200: Foundations of Ethics & Diversity. The mass suspension lasted for eight days, and it is one of the largest targeted suspensions of a course in the history of US higher education.
And it was all based on a lie told by a state legislator.
On May 19, 2021, a law firm hired by Boise State to investigate the case concluded that it was “unable to substantiate the alleged instance of a student being mistreated.” A year later, the right-wing attacks on diversity and racial justice that prompted the mass suspension at Boise State are growing even louder and more censorious across the country, along with the threat that administrators will engage in preemptive censorship to appease their overlords in the legislature. And Boise State officials are still convinced that this incredible act of repression was both necessary and justified. The state legislator who told the lie still has his identity protected by the Boise State administration, and he has never been named.
The instructor, who has never been publicly identified for fear of being targeted for harassment by the right, told me what happened last year, before either of us knew that her class was actually the source of the rumor: A conservative student in her class misunderstood something that the instructor said about inequality, and told the instructor that her ideas were stupid. Other students in the class jumped on the chat to write “you can’t call the instructor stupid” and “not cool.” The instructor defended the student who had called her ideas stupid, but that student was upset, started crying, and left the class early. The report noted, “Student 1 expressly stated that she did not feel like the instructor was disrespectful to her in any way and that the instructor checked in with Student 1 after class to make sure she was okay.”
This is a case of students responding in a perfectly reasonable and polite way to a conservative student who was abusive toward an instructor. The report concluded that “the instructor responded appropriately to the situation.” Appropriately? How about admirably? It takes incredible character for any teacher to be called “stupid” by a student and then to immediately defend that student and follow up with her, not to demand an apology or lecture her, but to make sure she wasn’t upset.
And what was Boise State’s reward for having thoughtful instructors who bent over backwards to protect abusive conservative students? A right-wing hit job from a state legislator targeting higher education in the state.
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