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Ann A⁠t⁠k⁠i⁠nson

December 6, 2023

December 6, 2023

“The university’s role is not to decide which ideas you can or cannot pursue. It’s to allow you to develop your own worldview and opinions. 

Instead, faculty are treating students like children. They’re saying, ‘We know what is best for you. Don’t explore this certain set of ideas.’ That’s the opposite of what higher education should do. 

I’m a proud alumna of Barrett, the Honors College of Arizona State University, and I’ve always been proud to be a Sun Devil. So I was thrilled to get the job as Director of the T.W. Lewis Center, which was housed in the honors college. 

The Lewis Center existed to prepare Honors students for the challenges and opportunities of life, to teach traditional American values like personal responsibility, hard work and civic duty – as well as entrepreneurship, career success, happiness and personal finance.

It has been by far the most purposeful work I’ve ever done.

We hosted speaker series and workshops, where real-world leaders from different industries came to campus to teach real-world-based skills.

They had a wide variety of different worldviews, and while we were business- and entrepreneurship-focused, when it came to worldviews speakers could talk about whatever they wanted to. 

Unfortunately, for one of these events, I invited the ‘wrong kind of people.’ The event was titled ‘Health, Wealth, and Happiness.’To me, teaching students about those three things seems like a good idea.

39 of the 47 honors college faculty members thought differently. 

Their complaints weren’t about the content of the talk. They just didn’t like the speakers.

They sent a petition to the dean and distributed it campus-wide using their official ASU positions and emails. They took to Twitter.

But it gets worse.

Some of the faculty went into their classrooms where they teach a mandatory class to honors freshmen, and said, ‘Do. Not. Attend. This is an event for white supremacists.’ Our main speakers were Jewish, Sri Lankan, and Japanese. 

Imagine, you’re 18 years old and your main honors class teacher tells you, ‘Don’t attend this program.’

Faculty members stood 10 feet from the only entrance, making eye contact with every person entering the building to intimidate anybody who wished to attend.

The students didn’t protest. The teachers decided that they were the arbiters of what speech was acceptable.

That’s when things went really sideways.

I was ‘reprimanded’ by the provost, who had approved the speakers. They allowed it, but I had to take the consequences. The Center’s biggest donor pulled funding because of the University’s actions. I found alternative funding, but they had already decided that I was no longer going to be working there. Then they closed the center. 

Thankfully, I’m not a lifelong educator. This was a sabbatical from my career. Most people in higher education know they have a lot to lose if they speak up. I’m speaking up for people who can’t. 

I’m also speaking up to help my alma mater improve where it desperately needs to and help it to become a leader. This country wants a university to be an example and champion of free speech.

We should treat students like adults and let them decide which ideas to explore. Students should have a right to do that without being ostracized if they dare to explore the ‘wrong ideas.’”

Ann Atkinson

Phoenix, Arizona

Ann is a lifelong resident of Arizona with a decades-long career in healthcare real estate investment. She believes we all have innate and limitless abilities in ourselves to continue to improve, evolve, and grow.