Ousted ASU official slams school for caving to 'faculty's illiberal tantrum'
'ASU claims to value freedom of expression. But in the end the faculty mob always wins against institutional protections for free speech.'
'The biggest losers here are unquestionably ASU students, who have now been taught that success requires conformity rather than free thought.'
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, soon-to-be former Arizona State employee Ann Atkinson denounced the institution for its fraudulent commitment to “freedom of expression” after the school succumbed to a “faculty mob” when she sought to bring conservative speakers to campus in February.
As noted by Atkinson, Arizona State is ranked in the top half of schools for free speech and received a “green light” for the majority of its speech code policies from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
In her op-ed, however, Atkinson argued that Arizona State’s free speech principles are only superficial.
The university is home to the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development, an initiative that provides “real-world courses on self-awareness (behaviors, values, strengths), leadership, career management, entrepreneurship, success and happiness” for honors students. For the past two years, Atkinson served as the program’s executive director.
In February, the Lewis Center hosted an event titled “Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” featuring author Robert Kiyosaki, as well as famous conservatives like Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager. This program was not affiliated with any political party and was focused on giving life advice and allowing students to make connections.
Upon hearing that conservative speakers would be featured on campus, 39 of Arizona State’s 47 Honors College faculty members signed a letter to the dean in condemnation of the event, referring to Kirk and Prager as “white nationalist provocateurs,” Atkinson wrote.
She noted that professors also devoted class time to decrying the program, claiming that numerous students felt “intimidated” into not attending. Advertisements for the event were taken down, and deans tried to pressure Atkinson into canceling it.
Atkinson asserted that the school said it would not be in the Lewis Center’s “best interest,” if the speakers were to make any political statements, which she “interpreted as a threat.”
Despite this, Atkinson continued with the program. The event was a “resounding success,” with 1,500 students attending in person and 24,000 attending virtually.
After the event, however, the school’s theater operations manager, Lin Blake, was fired. In addition, Atkinson says she was told that, as of June 30, Arizona State will “dismantle the Lewis Center,” taking her position as executive director with it.
Atkinson also claimed that the university said her termination was purely a “business decision,” even though she had raised over $500,000 for the center last year.
“The biggest losers here are unquestionably ASU students, who have now been taught that success requires conformity rather than free thought,” Atkinson wrote.
“ASU claims to value freedom of expression. But in the end the faculty mob always wins against institutional protections for free speech. If a culture that promotes the free exchange of ideas isn’t adequately fostered at ‘green light’ rated ASU, is any school really safe?”
Campus Reform has reached out to all relevant entities for comment and will update this story accordingly.