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Arizona State University faces crisis as donor pulls money, lawmakers probe free speech concerns

Arizona Senate Republicans launched a committee to study free speech at public universities and to look at the events surrounding the "Health, Wealth & Happiness" program. 

Published: July 16, 2023 11:16pm

Arizona State University is facing a crisis as state lawmakers launch an investigation and at least one donor pulls his money over allegations the school is not supporting free speech. 

Ann Atkinson, executive director of the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development at ASU’s Barrett Honors College, lost her job last month in what she called a politically motivated move for organizing an event earlier this year titled "Health, Wealth and Happiness," with conservative commentators Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk.

Arizona State says she lost her job because the center lost funding and that the event in question "was well attended and was successful."

However, millionaire Tom Lewis, sponsor of the T.W. Lewis Center, said he pulled his annual $400,000 in funding for the center after he saw faculty and staff at the Barrett College espouse "alarming and outright hostility" toward the conservative event.  

A majority of Barrett faculty members, 37 out of 47, had signed a petition condemning the event before it even began, according to Turning Point USA, the conservative group founded by Kirk.

"After seeing this level of left-wing hostility and activism, I no longer had any confidence in Barrett to adhere to the terms of our gift, and made the decision to terminate our agreement, effective June 30, 2023," Lewis wrote after having donated millions to the school over the course of more than 20 years.

Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow and Political Science Professor Nicholas Giordano told Just the News that his "biggest concern" was the number of faculty members who signed the petition condemning the event.

"When you look at the mindset of faculty members, they do set an example on college campuses. When we see these students start to shout down speakers, when they try and marginalize other student groups, a lot of it starts with the faculty members and the examples that they're providing on campus themselves," he said Sunday.

Last week, Arizona Senate Republicans announced the launch of a committee to study free speech at public universities in the state and to look at the events surrounding the "Health, Wealth & Happiness" program. 

The state lawmakers plan on holding a hearing Tuesday featuring testimony from Atkinson and Prager as well as ASU religion and philosophy professor Owen Anderson and conservative talk show host Seth Leibsohn.

"ASU has more speakers from more points of view than any other organization in Arizona and we at ASU fight hard to maintain this very important role," Arizona State President Michael Crow said the same day the state Senate announced its investigation. 

The fact that Arizona has traditionally been a conservative state but it is experiencing a shift left is reflective of a national trend on college campuses, Giordano said.

"We're seeing throughout the United States that there's an increasing intolerance towards differing viewpoints on college campuses," Giordano said. "Unfortunately, it tends to try and censor and marginalize and silence people that are conservative-leaning or Republican-leaning. And we've been witnessing it get worse and worse."

Madeleine Hubbard is an international correspondent for Just the News. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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