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Freedom of Speech at Arizona State University

ASU and Free Speech: Arizona State University (ASU)

July 14, 2023

Arizona State University is committed, in practice, not just rhetoric, to all things that support free speech and all its components. 

American universities have long been an environment where ideas are shared and tested, beliefs are expressed, and issues are debated. Along with that comes arguments and disagreements over strongly held beliefs. It can be quite noisy and sometimes uncomfortable, but in a free society, universities must be safe places that demonstrate tolerance for civil public discourse.

Arizona State University has been recognized with the “green light” by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and has adopted the Chicago Principles, which affirm the “free, robust and uninhibited sharing of ideas among all members of the university’s community.”

The heart of ASU’s Charter is a commitment to inclusion. That means everybody. ASU adheres to the First Amendment and the only pledge any employee of ASU takes is an oath to the Arizona and United States constitutions. 

Several recent stories about ASU’s T.W. Lewis Center within Barrett, the Honors College, failed to live up to the principle of allowing opposing views to be shared and, as such, have told a one-sided story. Mr. Lewis decided to discontinue funding that paid for more than $300,000 per year in salary and benefits costs for the executive director of the now-dissolved center. But the speaker series and classes that were created by the center will continue at ASU, and the faculty who delivered that content through the center will continue to do so.

The Health, Wellness and Happiness event that has drawn so much attention is an event that happened, was well attended and was successful. The controversy surrounding it and the opinions expressed in opposition to it are also examples of free speech. The university environment allowed all to be heard. 

Student organizations of many different points of view are empowered and supported in their efforts to learn through engagement. Rather than view these as learning opportunities, it is common for people in the university community and the surrounding community – or political interest groups with no connection to either community – to express opposition. Such events have been hosted both by ASU departments such as ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the Center for Political Thought and Leadership, the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, and by ASU’s numerous and varied student organizations. Recent examples in just the past few years include: conservative lawyer John Eastman, Ashton Blaise Whitty and Tim Gionet (aka, Baked Alaska), Jared Taylor, anti-Islam speaker Carl Goldberg, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Charlie Kirk, in a previous appearance.

The presence of an invited speaker on campus does not in any way imply university endorsement. In fact, because of the university’s commitment to protecting the diverse sharing of ideas, ASU employees must also share a commitment to tolerance and inclusion, as does the United States military. 

ASU strongly upholds the rights of all individuals and groups on campus to express their opinions, whatever those opinions may be, as long as they do not violate the student code of conduct, student organization policies, and do not infringe on another student’s individual rights.

"Some folks in Arizona have become confused recently about ASU’s commitment to freedom of speech. They seem to forget that ASU is actually a bastion for free expression. ASU has more speakers from more points of view than any other organization in Arizona, and we at ASU fight hard to maintain this very important role. In doing so, there is often lots of comments or concerns about speakers, from every perspective, and then the speakers speak at open and well-managed events. In that process, diverse views are welcome and desired including the wide and diverse views of our faculty and students."

Michael Crow
Arizona State University

“I want to make sure all the proper thanks are in order. Despite all the clamoring and the nonsense, Arizona State University deserves credit for still allowing this event to proceed.

Charlie Kirk 
At the "Health, Wealth and Happiness" event
presented by the T.W. Lewis Center

“One of the many things that distinguishes ASU from other top universities is our administration’s embrace of intellectual diversity. ASU President Michael Crow has been especially vocal on this issue, urging that 'we can and should learn from perspectives different from our own.' ”

Jonathan Barth, Donald Critchlow, Owen Anderson
In a column for The Daily Wire

“We have one of the most pro-free speech university presidents in the country.”

Ann Atkinson
On ASU’s stance about freedom of speech 

From a State Press article on March 22, 2019:

Kellen Moore, vice president of Turning Point USA's ASU chapter and a junior studying economics, said that contrary to what happened at GCU, ASU was helpful in making Wednesday's "Campus Clash" event possible.

"ASU generally is pretty good … the university was pretty nice to us," Moore said. "ASU was good with helping us out and making sure everything ran smoothly with the event."

Full article:
"Conservative speakers on
campus draw criticism, praise from ASU students"