In the past few months, Tromp has faced withering criticism both from Idaho's far-right Legislature and from advocates of academic freedom who condemn the state's Legislature.
But in another way, it just made Boise State look worse: Based on that vague secondhand complaint — without knowing which class, student or teacher was involved — Tromp took the radical step of temporarily suspending 52 classes in the diversity-oriented “University Foundations 200” course. Even after the classes were allowed to continue after a week, it was only in a prerecorded online format.
Though the report claimed that "temporarily suspending the UF 200 courses was appropriate,” Adam Steinbaugh, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told the Inlander that his academic-freedom legal group condemned the decision as not “legitimate, warranted, or proportional.”
He said he’d never seen a wholesale suspension of an entire course before, calling it a “drastic action designed to assure legislators that the university’s leadership was listening.”
But when the Inlander pressed Tromp on the university's controversies Wednesday, she displayed a much more optimistic attitude, arguing that the university will come out far more prepared to navigate a particularly angry moment in our culture.
"It is an exciting time. Because it's a moment of intense conflict, and a university can be a place where people can be in dialogue," Tromp says. " And right now in our nation, there are a lot of people who aren't in dialogue anymore."
She says she's not aware of any example of any other university suspending classes on that scale, but she says that leadership felt they didn't really have a choice, considering that they didn't know what class section the alleged incident had occurred in.
Gas leaks aside, Boise State has had to deal with bomb threats before. In 2019, a State Board of Education meeting was delayed due to a bomb threat in a Boise State building. But in that case, the student union building wasn't evacuated, and the board meeting resumed the very next day.
By contrast, in a case where no lives were at risk, 52 classes — with 36 faculty members and 1,300 students — were suspended for a week and then all moved to an online, prerecorded format with limited student-teacher interaction.
Tromp says she reached out to other leaders for advice.
Yet there was one obvious lever that the university didn't pull: Asking the 36 faculty members teaching the course if the allegation was true. Boise State spokesman Mike Sharp says that, according to Boise State's provost, the first time those faculty members were told about the complaint was after classes had been suspended.
Tromp says Boise State was trying to be careful not to influence the independent investigation they wanted.
One glaring question was left unanswered by the investigation: Who had the kind of influence to suspend more than 50 classes on just their account of a video they claimed to have seen?
The investigation doesn't identify the complainant beyond calling them a "concerned community leader," but portrays him as uncooperative, accusing the university of "indoctrinating students," but refusing to discuss what he'd seen in any detail or to connect the investigators with the "friend" who had the video.
Tromp says she spoke with the complainant before she decided to shut down the classes. She knows who he is.
All she would say was "it was a person who was respected by the university."
"We had people texting my leadership team during debates on the floor of the Legislature to say, 'They're talking about this class again.' So there were other concerns that had been brought forward," Tromp says. "It was not anything we could put our hands on and address... It's this theme we've seen nationally, that universities are attempting to indoctrinate students and that more conservative viewpoints are not welcome in some classes."
She doesn't say that the course suspension was caused by the Legislature, but says it stemmed from the same fraught environment that consumed the Legislature.
"We have people that are clashing in epic ways, on a national level. We have ideas that are clashing in epic ways on a national level. I think that's part of the reason that something like this could happen," Tromp says. "It felt like there was so much profound vulnerability at a time when we hadn't had a chance to begin to address what was happening in this new moment."
The Inlander asked that question a few different ways and didn't necessarily get a definitive answer. But Tromp doubted another complaint would necessarily play out the same way.
"I hope to God I never face a situation like that again," Tromp says. "But it's hard to imagine that that particular chemistry could be at play."
Part of it, she says, is that the university won't be under the kind of pandemic restrictions that can make clear communication difficult. (Most of the University Foundations classes were already online when the suspension hit.)
And she thinks that faculty members have a better sense of the kinds of explosive cultural topics that professors may have to approach more delicately. It's not about avoiding controversial subjects, she says. It's about providing the background and context so students understand where they're coming from.
"He said, 'I was so excited to come to Boise State. And I am trying to figure out how to navigate this space now, and to know what my place is and when I can speak and when I cannot speak,'" Tromp says. "And I can promise you that many of our faculty did not understand that there was a portion of our students who felt like that deeply and profoundly, and who weren't speaking up."
And as a result, she says, the university is going to make sure to respond differently.
"None of our faculty wants a student feeling silenced in the classroom, none of our faculty wants a student feeling shut down, because that's not education," Tromp says.
She says Boise State is going to make what they thought was evident more explicit: The goal of the university isn't to indoctrinate students with controversial ideas, only to help them understand them.
She says it happened to her. It's happened to her recently with the leaked recording on the Idaho Freedom Foundation's website. And it happened to her back when she was a professor in the '90s, teaching subjects like ethnic studies and women's studies.
But the bill muddled matters by referring to these ideas as tenets of "critical race theory," an academic concept, sometimes discussed in college courses, that focuses on uprooting racist structures in every area of society. Right-wing critics of academia have openly tried to conflate the term with anything "crazy" on the left.
It has placed Idaho's teachers and professors in a confusing situation, leaving them unsure what exactly they are allowed to say and can't say under the new, potentially unconstitutional law. After all, compelling student speech is already illegal.
Tromp says that Boise State is trying to help its faculty figure out what the new law means.
"We're helping them understand what the university's role is in supporting their academic freedom of speech and free speech, just like we support our students'," Tromp says.
But she also says that she doesn't think it means that professors can't lecture on critical race theory. Far from it. She says that it's worth engaging with arguments, that, say, critical race theory is divisive or "essentialist," that it focuses too much on a person's race to the exclusion of most everything else.
Tromp suggests that there are a lot of nuances that can be unpacked, like the idea that the issues that critical race theorists are concerned about aren't really about an individual's whiteness but larger "power structures."
"Let's actually bring some folks together who are working in this field, and bring these folks who have that critique together," she says. "Because I actually think there's some shared ground there for us to have this dialogue."
In the future, Boise State plans to launch what they're calling the "Institute For Advancing American Values," a program to engage in precisely the kind of contentious issues that has Boise State has been wrestling with.
"Part of the reason that we're starting this new institute, is because what we want to do is demonstrate that we're going to permit all of those voices on our campus.
Still, Tromp remains optimistic about the road ahead.