(NEW YORK)— The closing of Arizona State University’s T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development and the firing of its director after an outcry over an event with conservative commentators is an “unfortunate outcome for academic freedom,” PEN America said today.

Ann Atkinson said she was fired and that the Lewis Center she directed is being closed in the wake of an event featuring conservative commentators Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager. The event, which focused on professional development and networking, was protested by faculty members and students. After the resulting backlash, some of which was directed at center funder Tom Lewis, Lewis withdrew his donation, effectively closing the center. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Atkinson writes that the decision is evidence that ASU holds “hostility toward divergent views.” According to the university, both the center and Atkinson’s job were tied to Lewis’s funding, and she is eligible for other positions throughout the administration. Lewis also donates to both Turning Point USA and PragerU.

PEN America’s director of Free Expression and Education, Jonathan Friedman, said in response: “The loss of the Lewis Center is an unfortunate outcome for academic freedom at ASU. It’s disappointing that one unnecessarily skittish donor has closed an entire center, leading to disruption of staff employment and student programs. At the same time, donors do have the right to pull their funding, and universities are not obligated to maintain centers whose outside funding has been lost. Ultimately, the financial structure of the center’s funding has become a crack through which academic freedom falls, creating a university environment where free inquiry is not so free after all.”

Tom Lewis is the founder and chief executive officer of the T.W. Lewis Company, a Phoenix, AZ-based real estate investment company. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057

Note: An earlier version of the headline for this statement inadvertently suggested that Arizona State University, rather than Tom Lewis, was responsible for the closure of the Lewis Center.