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Private law firm finds no evidence of ‘social justice ideology’ at University of Idaho

An investigation conducted on behalf of the University of Idaho found no evidence supporting allegations of “social justice ideology” at the public institution.

Administrators hired the private law firm Hawley Troxell following a February 2021 report published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The law firm examined the findings of the foundation’s report that “social justice at UI is well-established in various organizations,” including hiring policies, curriculum and student life.

“After conducting our investigation, we were unable to substantiate the conclusions 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 investigation report by Hawley Troxell stated.

The 44-page foundation report that triggered the investigation was written by Anna Miller, the education policy director at IFF, and Scott Yenor, professor of political science at Boise State University.

The report was sponsored by the foundation and Claremont Institute Center for the American Way of Life and came to the following conclusions:

• UI administrators have developed a lengthy and detailed strategic plan for realizing their commitment to pushing social justice activism in hiring, recruitment, and culture-building.

• UI has a chief diversity officer (hired in 2015) and has established several standing committees to extend the reach of social justice ideology into all facets of the university.

• Its major colleges and departments are taking this social justice emphasis into the curriculum and the classroom. The College of Engineering leads the way with a Director of Engineering Diversity.

• Students must take at least five general education courses that are focused on or involve social justice education.

• Social justice ideology plays a significant part in at least 14 departments at UI.

• Campus speakers sponsored by the university are exclusively left-wing and represent social justice ideology.

The Hawley Troxell investigation criticized some of the conclusions as appearing “to be based upon subjective criteria and definitions.” The law firm also stated the report lacked witness interviews to substantiate its claims.

Hawley Troxell points to UI policies required by law or accrediting bodies to explain the implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus. The law firm’s report further argued that UI hosted several conservative speakers and events on campus, rejecting the foundation’s claim to the contrary.

Miller, in an interview with The College Fix, said the law firm’s report actually highlighted some of the issues the foundation sought to address.

“Overall, the Hawley Troxell report is a confession affirming key findings in our report relating to the University of Idaho’s pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Miller told The College Fix in a Jan. 31 email.

She cited several examples of instances in the investigation that she believed verified conclusions in the foundation’s report.

“The Hawley Troxell report affirms the influence of the University of Idaho’s President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion which has instated a well developed Diversity plan dedicated to ‘strengthening UI’s commitment to diversity and inclusion,’ not the advancement of academic knowledge or the pursuit of truth,” Miller said in the email.

UI did not respond to a request for comment about the Hawley Troxell report from The College Fix.

The Idaho legislature cut $500,000 from the UI budget last year due to concerns over social justice ideology and critical race theory being taught at the institution, according to the Idaho Statesman.

UI President C. Scott Green discussed the budget cut and recent Hawley Troxell report at a Jan. 28 meeting of the Idaho legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the Idaho Press reported. Green said he was “confident there was no indoctrination or affirmation program at the University of Idaho.”

“In short, the entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho 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 told the committee.

In her Jan. 31 email to The College Fix, Miller expressed criticism of UI’s decision to hire a law firm to investigate the claims within the IFF report.

“Instead of reforming their university according to the legislature’s directive and $500,000 budget reduction to their university, the UI used taxpayer dollars to pay a law firm to try to whitewash their advancement of critical social justice,” Miller said in her email. “However, by the end of the Hawley Troxell report one is left with the revelation that UI does have a systemic commitment to DEI.”

Boise State University was also the focus of a separate December 2021 IFF report about social justice ideology. The university faced a budget cut of $1.5 million over social justice initiatives and hired Hawley Troxell to investigate complaints about a diversity course, which concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated.

The foundation’s President Wayne Hoffman on Feb. 3 argued the Hawley Troxell report missed the mark.

“BSU still has a gender equity center, BUILD program, Blue Sky Institute, and at least four administrators dedicated to diversity and inclusion. The University of Idaho still has an LBGTQIA office, a Women’s Center, an Office of Multicultural Affairs, and an Office of Equity and Diversity. Idaho State University has an Office of Equity and Inclusion and a Gender Resource Center,” he wrote.

“All three schools offer degrees, courses, and certificates that are infused with social justice ideology, and they’re all funded by Idahoan taxpayers.”

MORE: Idaho lawmakers call on Boise State to ditch segregation by race, sexual orientation

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About the Author
Margaret Peppiatt - Franciscan University of Steubenville