GOP lawmakers aim to cut ASU funding, claiming free speech violations

By Camryn Sanchez
Published: Tuesday, November 28, 2023 - 8:52am

Anthony Kern
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Anthony Kern

Republican lawmakers took shots at Arizona State University on Monday, alleging the school discouraged conservatives from speaking at two events — even though the school went forward with hosting the events in question. 

The lawmakers indicated that they want to hold the university accountable by cutting its funding and putting guardrails on the governing Arizona Board of Regents. 

‘Free speech is free speech,” committee chair Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said. “We are not trying … to shut down the left's ability to protest, but they are absolutely trying to shut us down.”

Monday’s event was the second of two meetings of the Joint Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on Freedom of Expression at Arizona’s Public Universities.

When a conservative donor pulled his funding from ASU, the school shuttered the center he funded and laid off the executive director, saying the loss of the money necessitated the cuts. 

The laid-off director said the school discriminated against her based on her conservative ideology, causing Republican lawmakers to investigate free-speech issues. 

ASU found through an internal investigation that no policies were violated when the school hosted conservative speakers, but the Republicans remain unconvinced.

'Marxist professors that teach queer theory and anti-American garbage'

Although they cited no examples of conservative speakers being silenced, Republican lawmakers said they believe the school favors liberals.

“These Marxist professors that teach queer theory and anti-American garbage — they get away with this stuff, because nothing is done to them and it’s under the guise and smoke and mirror of free speech,” Kern said. 

Kern said courses like “men and feminism” and “trans queer pueblo and the struggle for liberation” are required courses at ASU. But a spokesperson for the university said in a statement that they are not.

Rep. Austin Smith, R-Wittman, said the Board of Regents seems to be nothing more than a “rubber stamp” for ASU President Michael Crow and the presidents of the two other state universities: the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. 

“Michael Crow is more than welcome to run for office and sit here and debate these topics with us rather than sit in his ivory tower charging students thousands of dollars for a worthless degree for underwater lesbian basket weaving that provides nothing to the future of this country,” Smith said.

Former ASU Gammage Auditorium events operations manager Linda Blake believes that she was also fired for facilitating conservative events.

“ASU and ASU Gammage is free to say that because the event went on and the speakers spoke it proves that they provide free speech, but if free speech was truly free at ASU producing events with unpopular viewpoints would not have cost me my job. There is no freedom of speech when it comes with the punishment of job loss for those who administer it,” Blake said.

Dems call committee 'nothing more than grandstanding'

The sun sets over a sign marking Arizona State University
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
The sun sets over a sign marking Arizona State University's Tempe campus in December 2022.

House Democrats announced shortly before the hearing that they would not attend because the first meeting on July 18 was “nothing more than grandstanding with an attempt to further spread misinformation and division.”

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said Senate Republican Chief of Staff Josh Kredit told them that Democrats didn’t attend the hearing because they couldn’t collect enough interested members. Kern concluded that Democrats do not care about free speech. 

Calli Jones, a spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said Kredit is not the Democrats’ chief of staff and that her caucus stands by the statement they put out.

Earlier this month, ASU canceled an event where liberal Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, was scheduled to speak. The school said in that case, it’s because people booking the event didn’t follow proper protocol. 

Kern said that although he disagrees with Tlaib, she should have been allowed to speak. 

He said he doesn’t want taxpayer dollars funding those events, and he guessed that more money goes to booking liberal speakers than conservative ones. 

Kern said the Republicans will likely introduce bills in the next month targeting ASU and ABOR.

ABOR oversees Arizona’s statute universities, but Kern said it snubs conservatives by not responding to complaints.

The committee’s last meeting will take place Jan. 4. Republicans requested that Crow or another ASU representative appear, admit to wrongdoing and submit some kind of report.

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