Arizona State University’s internal investigation into a controversial speaking engagement revealed “no evidence” of censorship by ASU faculty or administrators and found allegations by former director of the since shuttered host, the T.W. Lewis Center, were not “supported by the facts.”
The university sent the 75-page report on the events surrounding an event featuring conservative speakers, Dennis Prager, of Prager U, and Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, to lawmakers this morning, per a request from a joint legislative ad hoc committee convened to review the controversy.
According to the executive summary, the university “reviewed thousands of documents including emails, policies and websites and gathered information from university employees involved,” and hired an outside law firm to assist in the internal review.
The controversy started in February when the T.W. Lewis Center at ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College announced a speaking engagement entitled “Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” featuring Kirk, Prager and Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad.
In response to the event, more than 37 Barrett faculty signed a letter in opposition to it, calling Kirk and Prager “purveyors of hate” and expressing a vote of no confidence in Ann Atkinson.
The event went on as planned. But following the letter and event, namesake donor Tom Lewis pulled his donation from the T.W. Lewis Center.
He previously told the Arizona Capitol Times the university had failed to honor the donor agreement and generally did not support free speech. And in his letter to the university, which was included in the report, he cites similar concerns.
“Instead of sponsoring this event with a spirit of cooperation and respect for free speech, this event was met with strong opposition and open hostility. This hostility came from both faculty and staff, exposing what they really believe, what they stand for, and what they are likely teaching our students,” Lewis said. “If I were a parent of one of these students, I would find a different college or university that cared more about education than left wing activism.”
The T.W. Lewis Center did see some funding from the university, but Atkinson’s salary and benefits, totaling $300,000, were wholly funded by Lewis’s donation.
In the aftermath, Atkinson penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and claimed censorship by ASU faculty and administrators prompted her firing. She claimed she had attempted to salvage the center by identifying new donors but was rejected by ASU leadership.
In response, Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, and Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott, convened and co-chaired the Joint Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on Freedom of Expression at Arizona’s Public Universities to review the events surrounding the speaking event, the closure of the T.W. Lewis Center and Atkinson’s subsequent firing.
At the hearing, Atkinson claimed the faculty launched a “national condemnation campaign,” intimidated students from attending, “viciously and publicly attacked” Lewis Center donors, and said ASU and Barrett leadership removed advertisements, censored speech and attempted to curtail the topics covered by speakers.
The university rebuked all of Atkinson’s allegations.
And the report cited some hesitation from Atkinson, particularly an email she sent to a T.W. Lewis Company head where she questions including Kirk in the event at all and references his new book, “The College Scam: How America’s Universities are Bankrupting and Brainwashing Away the Future of America’s Youth.”
Atkinson wrote, “Based on the title, I am thinking it may not be the best idea to include him in the Gammage event. We should seriously consider whether he would distract from the message of Tom, Dennis & Robert…”
But the event went forward with Kirk on the lineup, with Atkinson giving Barrett Dean Tara Williams a heads up that his inclusion, “may be perceived as controversial.”
Atkinson sent an email to Williams and the Provost Office noting the donor agreement barred speakers from being “disqualified after they are selected.” And Williams assured Atkins, “We aren’t considering a disqualification in this case.”
The report points out the event offered 1,000 tickets to Barrett students and left 1,8000 tickets for the public, and Atkinson gave TPUSA and PragerU the greenlight to invite their donors.
In a separate testimony submitted by Williams, she said Barrett, “publicized the HWH event through all of the usual channels for Barrett student events — and more — even though Ann described the primary audience as potential donors.”
The report sparred with Atkinson’s contention that the faculty launched a “national condemnation campaign,” and noted the letter was an internal communication from faculty to Williams that was consequently made public.
And Williams claimed the college had, “no record of any student who raised concerns to the college about faculty suggesting they not attend the event.”
She continued, “After my office received a letter from faculty raising concerns about the event, faculty were reminded that while they could express their views, they should not pressure their students to attend the event or not.”
Williams also addressed Atkinson’s claim that she sought out other donors but was rejected by Williams.
The internal review found “Ms. Atkinson did not identify any substitute donors to the dean or the ASU Foundation. Instead, she provided the dean with a proposal that would have Barrett increase its institutional investment so that she could attempt further fundraising.”
Spokespeople for Senate and House Republicans did not respond to questions on the next steps for the ad hoc committee given ASU’s report. And a spokesperson for ASU declined to comment beyond the details of the report.
Atkinson did not immediately respond to request for comment but posted a poll on X, formerly Twitter, asking her followers whether they were “surprised” that “After investigating itself, ASU remains steadfast in its denial of wrongdoing.”
Turning Point USA is hosting Prager and Kirk back on ASU’s campus on Sept. 27 for “Health, Wealth and Happiness 2.0.”