Arizona State University (ASU) is facing two major crises at once, staring down the barrel of an investigation from the state legislature while at least one top donor has withdrawn his funding.
As Just The News reports, the controversy began with the university’s firing of Ann Atkinson, executive director of the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development at ASU’s Barrett Honors College. Atkinson says she was laid off last month after she organized an event titled “Health, Wealth and Happiness,” featuring the conservative commentators Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk. ASU, by contrast, says that she was fired because the center lost funding, while claiming that the event nevertheless “was well attended and was successful.”
But the sponsor of the T.W. Lewis Center, millionaire Tom Lewis, announced that he had withdrawn his annual donation of $400,000 after Atkinson’s firing, saying that he had witnessed “alarming and outright hostility” from faculty and students alike in response to the conservative event. A petition was circulated condemning the event before it even took place, signed by 37 of the 47 faculty members at Barrett.
“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,” said Lewis in his written statement. He had previously donated to the school over the last 20 years, to the tune of millions.
“When you look at the mindset of faculty members, they do set an example on college campuses,” said Nicholas Giordano, a political science professor and Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform. “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.”
Following the incident, Republicans in the Arizona Senate launched a new committee to take a closer look at the state of free speech in public universities, particularly regarding ASU’s treatment of the Prager and Kirk program. A hearing will be held on Tuesday featuring testimony from Atkinson herself, as well as Prager, ASU religion and philosophy professor Owen Anderson, and talk radio host Seth Leibsohn.
“ASU has more speakers from more points of view than any other organization in Arizona,” said Arizona State President Michael Crow in response to the announcement of the Senate investigation. “And we at ASU fight hard to maintain this very important role.”