‘I was shocked and disappointed by the alarming and outright hostility demonstrated by … faculty and administration’
A major benefactor is pulling funding from Arizona State University amid the firing of an ASU staff member who hosted an event featuring conservatives Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager.
Tom Lewis of the T.W. Lewis Foundation previously helped fund ASU’s T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development, which is housed in Barrett, The Honors College, at ASU.
“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 in a news release. “I regret that this decision was necessary, and hope that Barrett and ASU will take strong action to ensure that free speech will always be protected and that all voices can be heard.”
Lewis is CEO of the Scottsdale-based real estate business T.W. Lewis Company. He gave a $2.5 million gift in 2019, according to the Arizona Daily Independent. The Daily Press, ASU’s student newspaper, reported Lewis also gave annual $400,000 donations to support the center.
Lewis’s announcement came just a few weeks after Ann Atkinson, who served the executive director of the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development, publicly stated she was fired by ASU.
“ASU claims to value freedom of expression. But in the end the faculty mob always wins against institutional protections for free speech,” Atkinson wrote in The Wall Street Journal last month, alleging her firing was politically motivated.
Atkinson’s assertions were quickly denied by ASU, which claimed her position was being eliminated because Lewis pulled his support.
“Ms. Atkinson’s current job at the university will no longer exist after June 30 because the donor who created and funded the center decided to terminate his donation. Unfortunate, but hardly unprecedented,” the university wrote in a June 20 news release.
“Ms. Atkinson’s frustration with those who would suppress freedom of speech is one we share. But her conclusion that ASU students are the ‘losers’ misses the obvious point: the ‘Health, Wealth and Happiness’ event hosted by Robert Kiyosaki, Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk was a success. Speakers came, they spoke, and more than 600 people attended,” the university added.
ASU’s media relations team did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment.
In an interview with The College Fix this week, Atkinson said that she attempted to bring in new donor funding to make up for Lewis’s contributions, but that the dean of the Barrett Honors College, Tara Williams, “expressed no interest” in replacing the donation.
“Donor enthusiasm was contingent on maintaining the original intent and programming of the Lewis Center. By declining new funding and discarding the intent, Barrett’s new dean, in her first year on the job, dismantled a treasure at ASU,” Atkinson said.
Lewis’s statement announcing his decision to withdraw funding slammed the “radical” politics that have taken hold at ASU.
“Because these were mostly conservative speakers, we 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,” Lewis said.
“Instead of sponsoring this event with a spirit of cooperation and respect for free speech, Barrett faculty and staff exposed the radical ideology that now apparently dominates the college,” he added.
Joe Seyton, who serves as communications manager at the Goldwater Institute, pointed to university faculty refusing to fight for free speech as a growing problem that has resulted in a “crisis of confidence.”
“Higher education faces a growing crisis of confidence of its own making. Too many university faculty across the country have abandoned their commitment to free speech, with some leading ‘scholars’ actively declaring things like ‘diversity trumps free speech,’” Seyton told The College Fix.
This is not the first time major donors have pulled support from universities in response to leftism dominating campuses.
In May 2023, donors to the University of Oklahoma announced they were pulling their support for the school, with some citing diversity policies as the reason for doing so.
“I’m not happy with where they’re headed,” Christopher Boxell, a neurosurgeon who donated about $250,000 to the school, told Fox News. “The diversity, equity and inclusion [agenda] I think is better named DIE for DEI because I think that’s what’s going to happen because of it.”
In early 2023, the Virginia Military Institute faced major pushback from an alumni group who began redirecting donations to an independent group, the Cadet Foundation, over the school’s embrace of DEI.
MIT has also lost support from many of its alumni donors.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct that Lewis pulled his support earlier this spring.
IMAGE: YouTube screenshot, Arizona State University