The director of a center at Arizona State University alleged she is being fired for hosting conservatives Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager.
Ann Atkinson said she is being fired as the executive director of the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development effective June 30. She said the entire center will also be shut down, according to a June 19 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. She served as the executive director since 2021.
While ASU holds a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, “beneath ASU’s written commitment to intellectual diversity lies a deep hostility toward divergent views,” Atkinson (pictured) wrote.
The “hostility” can be seen in the reaction to Atkinson’s event in the spring semester that included Turning Point USA CEO Charlie Kirk and conservative commentator Dennis Prager. More than 40 faculty members called the pair “purveyors of hate,” and criticized the Barrett Honors College, which houses the personal development center, for hosting the speakers for its conference on “Health, Wealth & Happiness.”
“By platforming and legitimating their extreme anti-intellectual and anti-democratic views, Barrett will not be furthering the cause of democratic exchange at ASU, but undermining it in ways that could further marginalize the most vulnerable members of our community,” the scholars wrote.
The faculty protests extended beyond the letter. Professors spent precious class time denouncing the program. On Twitter they lamented the university’s willingness to allow donor input on campus events. Mr. Prager received a death threat, forcing municipal and campus police to enact extensive security measures…
…The university administration’s position on the event was no secret. All advertising about “Health, Wealth, and Happiness” was scrubbed from campus walls and digital flyers. Behind closed doors, deans pressured me to postpone the event indefinitely. I was warned that if the speakers made any political statements, it wouldn’t be in the Lewis Center’s “best interests,” which I interpreted as a threat.
She wrote that she “ignored” the complaints and ultimately “1,500 people attended in person, another 24,000 joined us online.”
However, the petition and faculty protests were “effective” in silencing dissenting viewpoints, Atkinson wrote.
One, she said students were scared out of attending by their professors. “Students worried that attending or expressing interest in the event would hurt them academically,” Atkinson alleged. “Grades for ambiguous things like ‘class participation’ give professors the ability to punish students for their politics.”
Second, the operations manager for the theater that hosted the event was fired. This is in addition to the closure of center, which ASU called a “business decision,” though Atkinson noted she has raised more than $500,000 in the last year.
“ASU claims to value freedom of expression,” she wrote. “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?”
FIRE has weighed in on the situation and said it is “working to learn more” about the situation.
“We’ve asked ASU, the center’s director, and its faculty for more information,” the group tweeted.
FIRE is working to learn more about a troubling allegation @ASU will close its T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development in retaliation for hosting controversial speakers. We’ve asked ASU, the center’s director, and its faculty for more information.https://t.co/7q1HKLWprF
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) June 20, 2023
Atkinson would not be the first hire forced out by ASU over political differences. The university revoked a job offer to Sonya Duhé to become the school’s next journalism dean after backlash for her use of the phrase “good police officers,” in a tweet about George Floyd.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated with further commentary from FIRE.
IMAGE: Arizona State University