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BSU students accuse school of speaker bias

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BOISE — Lawmakers grilled Boise State University President Bob Kustra on Thursday over a conservative student group's accusation that the school has shown liberal bias in selecting recent campus speakers.

Students Brandon Stoker and Jonathan Sawmiller, whose Conservative Student Coalition is allied with the Freedom Alliance started by Lt. Col. Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame, complain 18 of 21 speakers since 2001 were "left-leaning moderates, leftists or extreme leftists."

Their list included Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader who came in January for Martin Luther King Day, education reformer Jonathan Kozol, feminist Gloria Steinem and reporter Seymour Hersh.

Though Kustra acknowledged speakers on the list represented a "tilt to the left," the former Republican lieutenant governor from Illinois said absolute balance wasn't something to strive for when trying to present a diversity of viewpoints on campus.

He told the Republican-led Senate Education Committee that "decentralized" boards choose speakers for the Distinguished Lecture Series and the MLK event, not him. And he said the student's list was incomplete. For instance, it left off speakers including Lech Walesa, the anti-communist former Polish president.

Sen. Monte Pearce, R-New Plymouth and a committee member, has taken up the students' mantle and encouraged Kustra to remedy the situation.

"This is a small issue that you can fix in a hurry," Pearce told Kustra.

"I don't think the goal here is complete arithmetic equality," Kustra responded. "I don't know how you define liberal and conservative when it comes to some of these speakers."

In a packet to lawmakers and to Kustra, Sawmiller suggested a list of 12 speakers with more conservative views that he'dlike to see invited to speak at events including BSU's Distinguished Lecture Series. They include former GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes and ex-CIA chief James Woolsey.

Kustra pledged to work with Stoker and Sawmiller. Still, he contends few have approached him to complain.

"There isn't exactly a firestorm on campus," said Kustra.

Sawmiller, a BSU student senator, said he was pleased Kustra agreed to discuss the matter further.

"I was gratified he did recognize there is a tilt to the left in speakers on campus," Sawmiller told The Associated Press after the Senate hearing.