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Intimidation of Conservatives at Arizona State U. Documented at Legislative Hearing

Intimidation of Conservatives at Arizona State U. Documented at Legislative Hearing

Executive Director of ASU’s The T.W. Lewis Center was removed for inviting Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk to speak on campus. She testified at the hearing.

The effort by the left to silence, mock, and punish conservative voices on college campuses nationwide received full exposure in Arizona this week after an administrator was fired for bringing those voices to Arizona State University and a conservative donor yanked millions of dollars from ASU’s Honor College.

On Tuesday, the Arizona State Legislature’s Ad Hoc Bipartisan Committee On Freedom Of Expression At Arizona’s Public Universities convened to hear testimony from organizers of an event called “Health, Wealth and Happiness” which was organized by the T.W. Lewis Center For Personal Development. You can watch the full hearing here.

Key testimony came from Ann Atkinson (starting at 1:17:20 of the video), who was fired from her position as executive director of the center, which had invited conservative talk show host and founder of Prager University, Dennis Prager, and Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk, as well as finance expert Robert Kiyosaki to participate.

Atkinson wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about her ordeal, I Paid for Free Speech at Arizona State.

The February 8th event was the subject of protest in a letter signed by 39 faculty members, representing 75 percent of the honors faculty in the college, where The T.W. Lewis Center was housed. The February 1st Letter called Prager and Kirk “purveyors of hate” …” who would further marginalize vulnerable members of our community” such as people of color and the LGBTQ community. It urged top leaders of the university to ‘distance’ themselves from the event.  The faculty ran what Atkinson called a “national condemnation campaign” of the event and publicly called the speakers “white nationalists.”

Under questioning from State Senate Co-Chair Anthony Kern, Atkinson detailed how students had informed her that some of these professors were using class time, in violation of university policy, to rail against the event and discourage attendance.  Atkinson described how multiple students told her they could not attend because they were afraid of “losing their residency” status, and that they feared their presence would affect their grades. One student said she would only attend if there were no cameras allowed into the event because she could not be seen there. Atkinson also detailed how electronic closed-circuit televisions on campus that advertised the event were dismantled and paper flyers were torn down.  Atkinson said the students’ fears were justified when many of the professors who objected to the event lined up at the entrance to it, forcing students to run the gauntlet past them to attend.

Atkinson also testified that Dean of The Barrett Honors College Tara Williams asked her to postpone the event indefinitely and, when she would not, was told to tell Prager and Kirk that they could not discuss anything political. Under questioning, Atkinson confirmed that no such warning had ever been issued to any other guest speakers at the college.

Scottsdale real estate magnate Thomas Lewis, who funded The T.W. Lewis Center For Personal Development, which sponsored the event, announced that he was rescinding all the planned donations to the university.  Formed in 2000, the foundation has provided more than 200 scholarships to ASU. This year’s $400,000 donation to the center (following $800,000 in 2017) was rescinded by Lewis last week, and the university has since closed the center down. Lewis said in a statement:

“Because these were mostly conservative speakers, I expected some opposition, but I was shocked and disappointed by the alarming and outright hostility demonstrated by the Barrett faculty and administration toward these speakers. …after seeing the 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.” (source:

Atkinson also testified that in a June 13 meeting, she was told by Provost Nancy Gonzalez that “we can have these speakers but you will have to take the consequences,” and she was then fired.  ASU Executive Vice Provost Pat Kenny and Kim Demarchi from the university legal counsel’s office were the only two from the ASU administration to testify at the hearing.  Kenny said Atkinson was ‘let go’ because the funding for her position was withdrawn, not because of retaliation.  When asked if he could recall any other large donor withdrawing funding from the university, Kenny said he could not.  In his presentation to the committee, Kenny testified that Arizona State supports freedom of speech and has a green light rating from the Foundation Of Individual Rights In Education (FIRE), which rates universities’ free speech and codes nationally.

Atkinson admitted that attendance at the event was good despite the pressure not to attend but said it was mostly folks from the community, not the students, who attended, an observation Dennis Prager, who also testified, later confirmed. Atkinson added that a lot of the tickets were comped, not bought.

One of the Democrats on the committee asked if any of the students had complained to the administration that they were being intimidated by professors about attending the event. Legal counsel Kim Demarchi explained that ASU has a hotline for students who feel intimidated by a professor or are having an ethical problem, but that hotline didn’t receive any calls.

None of the 39 professors who signed the letter complaining about Prager and Kirk attended Tuesday’s hearing.

One faculty member who did testify was Dr. Owen Anderson, a religion and philosophy professor at ASU whose Bonafide included the publication of “The Cambridge Companion to The First Amendment.” Anderson says he is routinely called a bigot and homophobe by faculty and others because he quotes the Bible in his teaching. He cited his quotations from the book of Genesis, which says God made only two genders.  Anderson also complained that his college is evaluating professors on their contribution to decolonization and anti-racist activities and studies.  He testified that when he asked for some debate and discussion about that policy, he was admonished.  Anderson also complained that faculty are encouraged to take courses such as “Seven Ways White People Can Combat White Privilege,” and “How To Explain White Privilege To Broke White People,” to name a few.

Anderson says free speech is not supported at Arizona State University if it is conservative or Christian in nature.  He called on administrators at ASU to make a greater effort to uphold, encourage and protect the speech rights of conservative members like himself.

Democrat representative Analise Ortiz pointed out that Anderson has a Substack column in which he is critical of ASU, yet he has not been admonished by the university. Ortiz also told the hearing that as a pansexual, she finds Anderson’s views offensive but yet he still retains his professorship (even though some faculty mock him.) It was recommended that Anderson file a formal complaint with the university.

Co-Chair Kern then read tweets by Arizona House and Senate democrats saying that the hearing was a ‘show’ and a “waste of taxpayer time and money” simply because a wealthy donor yanked his funding.

Kern closed the hearing by saying ASU will be required to report in 60 days what the university will do to mitigate the bias at the state-funded institution, and then the issue will be taken up in the judiciary committee.


Francesca Viola is a freelance writer and consultant interested in First Amendment issues, particularly in academia and journalism. She is an attorney and former journalism professor at Temple University. She began her career in television news in Philadelphia and still resides there.


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The d/prog who describe the hearing as ‘show and waste of time… b/c a wealthy donor yanked his funding’ are being deliberately obtuse. The leftists, having infiltrated and captured our institutions, won’t willingly give up control. It’s up to the legislatures and public pressure to force change.

When a donor pulls funding over what they perceive as a free speech issue, other issue related to misuse of the funding or other discriminatory shenanigans that should be treated as a ‘canary in the coal mine’ by the legislature.

E Howard Hunt | July 21, 2023 at 8:02 am

The saddest thing about these stories is what they disclose about the professors and the administrators. Even if they were brought to heel and left the few conservative guest speakers and professors unmolested, they are of such a low caliber of intellect and so deranged and disorganized in mind and action, that no parents should send their children to their institutions.

Steven Brizel | July 21, 2023 at 8:25 am

This is what the left does -suppressing dissenting views

We forgot that the Cold War was a two front war. Soviet communism abroad and ‘liberalism’ here at home. We celebrated the end of the USSR but Democrats here did not celebrate quite so much. ‘Liberals’ here became less so thereby becoming ‘progressives’. They got busy infiltrating all levels of education and here we are—the USSR emerges in our classrooms.

chrisboltssr | July 21, 2023 at 8:46 am

This is why any time ASU comes being me for money all those requests end up in the garbage. The Left destroys anything it touches and it is currently destroying ASU, just like any other college it or institution it infests and infects.

Also, this is the same school where two woke black chick’s started hurting racial attacks at two white kids because they had stickers on their laptop supporting police. That school is a cesspool.

“Ortiz also told the hearing that as a pansexual, she finds Anderson’s views offensive but yet he still retains his professorship…”

It’s nauseating observing these self-aggrandizing, attention-seeking Dumb-o-crat narcissists pat themselves on the back and make a loud spectacle of of their sexual preferences, as if such preferences 1) should be public knowledge, and, 2) allegedly represent a laudable and unique trait/accomplishment for which they deserve recognition and plaudits.

Friends don’t let friends have anything to do with ASU.

This is one of the reasons we need to pick people who could win.

Arizona U doesn’t care that it is exposed, it cares if the governor sends someone to do something about it and passes a new law about itself.

    henrybowman in reply to Danny. | July 21, 2023 at 5:00 pm

    Our previous governor (R) was “someone who could win.”
    He won, and he didn’t do jack-shit about this problem either.

henrybowman | July 21, 2023 at 5:04 pm

“many of the professors who objected to the event lined up at the entrance to it, forcing students to run the gauntlet past them to attend.”

If they were identifiable as professors, their white hoods and robes were poorly tailored indeed.

“ASU has a hotline for students who feel intimidated by a professor or are having an ethical problem, but that hotline didn’t receive any calls.”

Similarly, the ombudsman at the German Railroad Authority reported not receiving a single call from Jewish residents asking after missing family members.

Richard Aubrey | July 21, 2023 at 9:22 pm

Is this the place which planned to have paid informants wandering around hoping to overhear or invent improper speech?