Abrupt Cancellation of Ethics Course at Boise State “Unfathomable”
PEN America says despite complaints about the course, it appears lawmakers pressured the institution into making a rash decision
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Boise State University this week informed 1,300 students and 36 faculty that it was immediately suspending all 52 sections of a general education course on ethics and diversity. The cancellation comes in response to reports that a student felt “degraded” during a discussion of white privilege. The conversation was reportedly videotaped and sent to state lawmakers, who have been scrutinizing the university’s commitment to social justice and recently voted to cut the university’s budget. University leaders allegedly decided to cancel the whole course without seeing the video of the interchange, with Boise State President Marlene Tromp offering the justification that “we have been made aware of a series of concerns, culminating in allegations that a student or students have been humiliated and degraded in class on our campus for their beliefs and values.”
“It’s unfathomable to hear that a course for over 1,000 students was completely cancelled at the mere suggestion of some politicians’ displeasure, and by the university’s own admission, without having even seen the video that sparked concern,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America. “Universities like Boise State have numerous channels for filing complaints about instructors and reviewing curriculum and pedagogy, and none of these include state lawmakers pressuring the university to cancel a class they don’t like. It’s unfortunate to hear that any student might experience humiliation or denigration in a class, but it is truly worrying to think that a whole course with multiple sections could be cancelled because of a single interchange that those making this decision haven’t even seen. There is no reason the university can’t undertake a review of a course if it sees fit, but to shut it down outright because it may involve difficult conversations is an action that has no place in a university.
“Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine this happening to any academic course in an institution of higher learning. But unfortunately, banning conversations about diversity has become so popular among some elected officials that they are seemingly willing to forego long-established norms around academic freedom to pursue it. Boise State must immediately reinstate this course, lest this shocking violation of academic freedom and gross manipulation of due process set a damaging and dangerous precedent.”