Higher education, ideally a bastion of free thought and inquiry, should eagerly embrace a multitude of voices and perspectives—we usually call that thinking and learning. Yet, in practice, the ubiquitous doctrines of inclusion inscribed into university charters are not without exceptions. These exceptions materialize from the judgments of self-appointed arbiters of speech, who wield the authority to classify ideas and individuals as hateful and unsafe as they break from a general orthodoxy of perspective. Disguised as protections of students from pernicious notions, these arbiters diligently strive to condemn, censor, and chill speech they do not like – while university leadership does nothing.
I experienced this exact condemnation when I orchestrated a university-sanctioned event in my capacity as the Executive Director of the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development at ASU’s Barrett Honors College. The event, titled “Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” took place at ASU Gammage Auditorium on February 8, 2023. Esteemed experts joined the panel, with Dr. Radha Gopalan, a distinguished heart transplant cardiologist, engaging on health; Robert Kiyosaki, expert on money and the acclaimed author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” delving into wealth; and Dennis Prager, co-founder of PragerU and, for over 40 years running, a nationally syndicated radio host, addressing happiness. Complementing the panelists were speakers Charlie Kirk, the visionary behind Turning Point USA, and Tom Lewis, a notable businessman, philanthropist, and namesake donor of the Lewis Center.
At Arizona State University (ASU), the culture of arbitration of speech has infiltrated deeply. This might come as a surprise given ASU’s acclaimed reputation for its free speech policies and its president’s commitment to this cause. In June, I published editorials in the Wall Street Journal“I Paid for Free Speech at Arizona State” and in the National Review, “Some Universities Care About Free Speech…Until They Don’t,” in which I revealed the free speech crisis at ASU’s Barrett Honors College while I also praised ASU for its free speech policies, at least as they state them on paper. I had hoped for a steadfast defense against blatant infringements on free speech that undermine ASU’s policies and declarations. Regrettably, my optimism faded. With each day, ASU’s actions, or lack thereof, erode my confidence in their stated defense of free speech.
It is imperative to grasp the suppression of speech in our academic institutions and to fully comprehend the essence of true freedom of thought which can only come from true freedom of speech. Only then can we embark on endeavors that genuinely promote the education and advancement of society.
ASU President Michael Crow may declare that “speakers speak at ASU,” but can we truly consider speech as free when over 80% of the faculty retaliates against speech they deem “wrong”? Do free speech ideals hold when deans prescribe limitations on speakers’ speech? Can we claim freedom of speech when marketing materials are removed due to faculty offense, while contrasting viewpoints bask in promotional spotlight? Is speech uninhibited when professors dedicate valuable class time to condemn the speech of other units? Does true free speech persist when professors discourage student participation in an event? And then stand vigilantly at the event entrance, watching attendees approach. Can we genuinely say that speech is free when college deans fire leaders and dismantle centers that uphold values no longer in harmony with the college’s leanings? The resounding answer is no. This is free speech under siege.
On August 3, 2023, a group of scholars who convened at Princeton established the “Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry.” This assembly distinctly underscores the pressing predicament faced by numerous higher education institutions that falter in upholding cultures of robust and uninhibited speech.
The Princeton Principles squarely confront this concern: “Some members of the university community argue that robust freedom of inquiry permits speech that can ‘harm’ students’ well-being or hinder institutional efforts to attain particular conceptions of social justice or ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion.’”
The case of the Lewis Center is illustrative, with 39 of the 47 Barrett Honors College faculty launching a nationwide condemnation campaign against the Health, Wealth, and Happiness program, speakers, donors, and staff. The Barrett deans actively endorsed this campaign and exercised censorship of speech the faculty found objectionable. The campaign led to intimidations and firings, which is to say prices to pay—sanctions—for exercising free inquiry and speech.
Having policies and ratings extolling free speech alone isn’t enough if university leadership doesn’t enforce their own standards. My experiences at ASU revealed a bureaucratic machinery that prioritizes safeguarding the institution’s interests over addressing free speech violations. I spent months reporting these violations internally and escalated the matter to ASU’s upper echelons and even testified in a legislative hearing. As of mid-August 2023, ASU and its board maintain that they have discovered “a series of examples of unfettered free speech,” aligning with the arbiters.
Self-governance alone proves inadequate in safeguarding our First Amendment rights on campus. The arbiters of speech are not likely to relinquish their control in the absence of decisive action by leadership. The responsibility rests upon parents, students, donors, the media, concerned citizens, and elected officials to unite and reestablish freedom of speech without fear of retribution, for there is no freedom of anything if it comes with a penalty for its exercise, including speech.
The Princeton Principles underscore that “If there is clear and convincing evidence that faculty members and administrators are not adequately fulfilling their responsibilities to foster and defend a culture of free inquiry on campus, other agents including regents, trustees, students, and alumni groups in the wider campus network may and indeed should become involved.”
Gratitude must be extended to parents, students, alumni, donors, lawmakers, and concerned citizens for following this story who rallied behind the cause of free speech. Special acknowledgment should be given to leaders like Arizona Senator Anthony Kern and State Representative Quang Nguyen for co-chairing the Joint Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on the Freedom of Expression at Arizona’s Public Universities. And sincere thanks should be extended to Arizona Speaker of the House Ben Toma and Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen for their unwavering support of free speech for all.
Despite receiving broad support, sustained vigilance is imperative. We must persist in recognizing speech suppression and holding university leadership accountable for defending the realm of free speech, even for ideas deemed offensive, such as, laughably, health, wealth, and happiness.
Inflation is forcing Americans to spend more of their hard-earned dollars over the past two years.
The rate of inflation has become a common refrain the past couple of years. While experts are hopeful that skyrocketing inflation may be a thing of the past, data shows that men and women around the nation continue to dig deeper into their wallets than they did before.
Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist for Moody’s Analytics Economics, recently tweeted that “the high inflation of the past 2+ years has done lots of economic damage. Due to the high inflation, the typical household spent $202 more in a July than they did a year ago to buy the same goods and services. And they spent $709 more than they did 2 years ago.”
Even with this analysis, Zandi expressed optimism with the future of inflation and the American economy, writing, “The trend lines look good, and suggest inflation is set to moderate further. Vehicle prices will decline more, so too will electricity prices, and the growth in the cost of housing will slow further.” However, he warned that his “biggest worry is the jump in oil prices, which bears close watching.”
The news about the current state of inflation comes as President Joe Biden heralds the anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, which was executed in an attempt to address the runaway inflation that has, at times, crippled certain sectors of the American economy. Biden posted, “One year ago, I signed into law one of the most significant laws ever enacted: the Inflation Reduction Act. Emerging from a deadly pandemic and doubts about America’s future – we delivered. Looking forward, not back. Taking on the special interests and winning.”
Arizona officials also weighed in on the significance of the law’s passage, sharing their perspectives on the progress (or lack thereof) since its execution. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego wrote, “Clean-energy jobs, a more secure water supply, and lower utility bills. These are just a few ways the Inflation reduction Act is delivering for Phoenix families since it became law one year ago today.”
Republican Senator Anthony Kern responded to Gallego, saying, “More left political lies. Has anyone’s electric bills, water bills, gas bills, and food bills been lowered??”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
The reactions from Arizona’s politicians reflect the greater divide along party lines, with Democrats hailing the latest indictment of former President Donald Trump and Republicans criticizing it.
On Monday, a grand jury in Georgia indicted Trump in the Fulton County Superior Court, listing 41 counts against the former president:
violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act;
solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer (six counts);
false statements and writings (11 counts);
impersonating a public officer;
conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer;
forgery in the first degree (two counts);
conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree (two counts);
criminal attempt to commit false statements and writings;
conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (two counts);
conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings;
filing false documents;
criminal attempt to commit filing false documents;
conspiracy to commit filing false documents;
criminal attempt to commit influencing witnesses (two counts);
conspiracy to commit election fraud (two counts);
conspiracy to commit computer theft;
conspiracy to commit computer trespass;
conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy;
conspiracy to defraud the state;
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) called the indictment a “witch hunt.”
The congressman declared that the judicial system was weaponized against a former president for political reasons. “The American people see straight through these sham political weapons,” said Biggs.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-07) took the opposite view. Grijalva said that this latest indictment proved the justice system is working as it should.
“These indictments are proof that our justice system is working, and the American people can see through Trump’s cons and lies for what they are – crimes,” said Grijalva.
In an interview with “Pod Save America” on Monday, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-03) said Trump represents a “threat to democracy” and expressed his gratitude that legal action has been taken against him.
State Rep. Cory McGarr (R-LD17) criticized the use of Trump’s tweets (now called “posts” under the X rebranding by Elon Musk) as grounds for prosecution, equating Monday’s indictment to a third-world country proceeding. McGarr also reposted an X post from Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who called the grand jury process “tainted and corrupt.”
“This is what low quality attorneys can accomplish in 3rd world countries where you prosecute political opponents,” posted McGarr.
Other Republicans simply pledged their allegiance to the former president. State Sen. Anthony Kern (R-LD27) reaffirmed his support for Trump as the 2024 GOP candidate.
Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ-02) said he and the people at large desire to have Trump return for a second term.
Some of the acts listed in the Fulton County Superior Court indictment cited online speech as the basis for conspiracy, a charge echoing a recent precedent set by the case of Douglas Mackey, better known for his social media personality “Ricky Vaughn.” In March, a jury found Mackey guilty of voter suppression for his right-wing satirical tweets during the 2016 election; Mackey faces up to 10 years in prison. Mackey wasn’t arrested until Jan. 27, 2021: several weeks after the January 6 incident at the Capitol, and exactly one week after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Trump is under four indictments currently, all issued this year.
In March, a New York grand jury indicted the former president over alleged “hush money” payments to porn star Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 election; in that case, People of the State of New York v. Trump, Trump faces 34 felony charges.
In June, a Florida grand jury indicted Trump and his personal aide and valet, Walt Nauta, over the handling of classified documents after his presidency; in that case, United States of America v. Donald J. Trump, Waltine Nauta, and Carlos De Oliveira, Trump faces 37 charges.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury indicted Trump over his alleged participation in the January 6 incident at the Capitol and alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election; in that case, United States of America v. Donald J. Trump, Trump faces four charges.
On Tuesday, a joint committee of the Arizona legislature launched an investigation into allegations of censorship at Arizona State University (ASU). Lawmakers issued a 60-day deadline to conduct the investigation.
The directive arose from the Joint Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on Freedom of Expression at Arizona’s Public Universities hearing concerning the T.W. Lewis Center, shuttered this year after the revocation of $400,000 in annual funding from its namesake, Tom Lewis, who cited “left-wing hostility and activism” as his reason for defunding the program.
Lewis’ contention arose from the efforts of 37 Barrett Honors College faculty members, who launched a coordinated campaign to prevent an event featuring prominent conservative speakers Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk. Prager testified at Tuesday’s hearing; he also published an opinion piece on the event ahead of the hearing.
State Sens. Anthony Kern, co-chair (R-LD27), Frank Carroll (R-LD28), Sally Ann Gonzales (D-LD20), Christine Marsh (D-LD04), and J.D. Mesnard (R-LD13) served on the committee, as did State Reps. Quang Nguyen (R-LD01), Lorena Austin (R-LD09), Analise Ortiz (D-LD24), Beverly Pingerelli (D-LD28), and Austin Smith (R-LD29). Kern and Nguyen served as co-chairs.
“This is to get to the bottom of a state-funded university that is not meeting its obligation to freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” said Kern.
The center relied on an annual budget of around $1 million; ASU representatives explained that the center would live on through the classes taught, though the actual center itself and the executive director at its helm, Ann Atkinson, would be gone.
ASU Vice President of Legal Affairs Kim Demarchi explained that Lewis’ funding provided for career development and education. Demarchi testified that ASU considered what programs it could continue without Lewis’ funding, and declared that they could only sustain the faculty without Lewis’ funding. Demarchi also shared that the Barrett Honors faculty weren’t punished in any way for the letter or allegations of intimidation.
“It is possible it [their letter] has a chilling effect,” said Demarchi.
However, Demarchi clarified that a professor would have to explicitly threaten a student’s grade in order to be in violation of university policy.
Atkinson went public with the closure of the Lewis Center last month. (See the response from ASU). She toldAZ Free News that the university turned down alternative funding sources that would make up for the loss of Lewis’ funding necessary to keep the Lewis Center running.
Nguyen opened up the hearing by recounting his survival of Vietnam’s communist regime as a child, and comparing that regime’s hostility to free speech to the actions of Barrett Honors College faculty.
“My understanding is that there is an effort to prevent conservative voices from being heard,” said Nguyen. “I crossed 12,000 miles to look for freedom, to seek freedom.”
Nguyen expressed disappointment that none of the 37 faculty members that signed onto the letter showed up to testify in the hearing. He said if he accused someone, he would show up to testify.
Democratic members of the committee contended that the event occurred and therefore censorship hadn’t taken place. Kern said the occurrence of the event doesn’t resolve whether freedom of speech was truly permitted, citing the closure of the Lewis Center.
ASU Executive Vice Provost Pat Kenney emphasized the importance of freedom of expression as critical to a free nation. Nguyen asked whether Kenney read the Barrett letter, and agreed to it. Kenney said the letter was freedom of expression. He claimed the letter didn’t seek cancellation of the event.
“When faculty speak out on their own like that, they’re covered on the same topic we’re here about, which is free speech,” said Kenney.
ASU representatives claimed near the beginning of the hearing that Lewis and ASU President Michael Crow had discussed the withdrawal of funding. However, toward the end of the hearing Kern announced that he’d received information from a Lewis representative that the pair hadn’t discussed the funding, and accused ASU representatives of lying.
Ortiz called the anonymous complaints from students hypotheticals because no formal complaints were lodged. She also claimed that the hearing was merely an attempt to delegitimize public and higher education. Marsh claimed that lawmakers shouldn’t consider the claims of student fears of retaliation because the students should’ve gone to ASU directly.
Nguyen asked whether ASU would defend guest speakers, such as himself, if ASU faculty were to lodge claims of white nationalism. Kenney said that, in a personal capacity, ASU faculty were free to make their claims, but not if they spoke out on ASU’s behalf.
Atkinson contested with the characterization that the Barrett faculty spoke out in their personal capacity. She pointed out that Barrett faculty signed the letter in their capacity as ASU faculty, emailed her using their ASU emails, and sent communications to students about opposing the event using ASU technology.
Ortiz announced receipt of a letter from the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) on the outcome of the requested investigation into the incident, the results of which Kern and the rest of the committee appeared to not have been made aware, determining that no free speech violations took place at ASU.
Marsh speculated that the professors didn’t show up because they faced death threats, citing media attention and conservative speaker Charlie Kirk’s Professor Watchlist. Kern said that would be a “lame excuse.” He also pointed out that the professors launched a national campaign and initialized bringing themselves into a bigger spotlight.
“You’re making excuses where we don’t know that’s the case,” said Kern.
Atkinson said that she could provide “dozens, if not hundreds” of students that could testify to experiencing faculty intimidation. She also claimed that Williams told her to avoid booking speakers that were political.
“We allow the speaker but you have to take the consequences,” said Atkinson, reportedly quoting Williams.
Atkinson testified that TV screen ads were removed and flyers were torn down following the Barrett Honors faculty letter. She also said she shared the information for the person responsible on June 13, yet it appears ASU took no action. ASU said they weren’t aware of any advertising for the event pulled.
Additionally, Atkinson testified that Williams pressured her to postpone the event “indefinitely.” She noted that Williams interpreted ASU’s policy of not promoting political campaigns as not allowing political speech at all.
“We were in an environment telling us that this was ‘hate speech,’” said Atkinson.
Atkinson said she was directed by leadership ahead of the event to issue a preliminary warning that the event contained potentially dangerous speech.
Gonzales told Atkinson that hate speech doesn’t qualify as constitutionally protected speech. However, the rules attorney corrected her that the Supreme Court ruled hate speech as protected.
ASU professor Owen Anderson also testified. He said that he’s previously had to get the free speech rights organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIR) involved twice due to faculty attempts to suppress free speech. Anderson also said that faculty have attempted to restrict speech by adding anti-racism and DEI to policy on class content and annual reviews of professors.
“Insults abound, but rational dialogue is rare. What we need are administrators that call these faculty to higher conduct,” said Anderson.
In closing, Kern said he doesn’t trust ASU, the University of Arizona, or ABOR. He argued that ABOR hadn’t issued a real investigation and called their report “typical government fluff [and] garbage.” Kern also called for the firing of Barrett Honors College Dean Tara Williams.
Another Arizona Republican-led effort to scale back the ESG movement in the state has been rejected by Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs.
On Monday, Senator Anthony Kern issued a press release, announcing that Governor Hobbs vetoed SB 1611, which he sponsored and which would have “countered the rapidly increasing use of environmental, social, or governance standards (ESG) scores to compel the business practices of private companies.”
In a statement, Kern expressed disappointment with the governor’s action, saying, “This bill would have ensured our state contracts do not push the goals of ESG in Arizona. If an organization supports ESG, we simply should not offer them a state contract. Tax dollars should not go to partisan organizations and organizations that implement politically driven policies. The Governor had the opportunity to put a stop to this clear form of discrimination, and instead, chose to support it.”
Senator Kern’s release elaborated on the purpose of his legislation and the importance of this proposal for the Grand Canyon State: “This bill specified a public entity may not implement an ESG policy as a condition of entering or renewing a contract with a company. ESG describes a set of standards imposed on companies to manipulate businesses and investors into compliance with Leftist political ideologies at the expense of free-market capitalism and investor returns. This system is similar to the concept of a credit score. If you don’t score high enough on their liberal meter, you could be rejected from doing business with these groups.”
Hobbs didn’t have much to say in her customary veto letter to Senate President Warren Petersen, writing, “I do not believe that tying the hands of the State’s procurement and investment professionals is in the best interests of the people of Arizona.”
After being introduced, SB 1611 was assigned to the Senate Government Committee, where it passed 4-3 – before clearing the full chamber 16-12 (with two members not voting). The legislation was transmitted to the House of Representatives and designated to the Government Committee, where it was approved with a 5-4 vote. The House then gave the green light for the bill 31-27 (with one member not voting and one seat vacant).
The governor’s veto of SB 1611 occurred on the same day she turned aside another, similar bill, which was SB 1500, sponsored by Senator Frank Carroll. That legislation would have “empowered (the) Arizona State Treasurer to eliminate ESG consideration from all state investments by requiring investments be made in the sole interest of the taxpayer.” Carroll pushed back in a statement this week, writing, “My interest is in protecting taxpayer dollars and protecting pensions. I sponsored this bill to get politics out of the pensions of public employees and public officials who have earned the right to financial stability after dedicating their lives to public service.”
Arizona Republicans and Democrats are unlikely to come together on the ESG issue as Hobbs has proven with her vetoes of bills from the legislature. Democrat Attorney General Kris Mayes has also taken her office in a different direction than that of her predecessor, stopping an ongoing investigation into the ESG movement soon after she took her post. Mayes said at the time, “The state of Arizona is not going to stand in the way of corporations’ efforts to move in the right direction.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.