After Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake's dispute with Arizona PBS and President Michael Crow, professors are worried about threats to academic freedom.
After Arizona PBS’s decision to host her opponent, Katie Hobbs, for an interview, Lake publicly feuded with the news organization and ASU, where the station is located. On Oct. 13 Lake tweeted "We’re cleaning up shop at @ASU, starting in January of 2023."
Alexander Aviña, associate professor of Latin American history, said he was concerned about Lake's comments because of what they reminded him of.
"We've seen the use of that language, particularly in relation to academic universities and places where there (are) fascistic movements on the rise," Aviña said.
Alex Young, a teaching associate professor and honors faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College, also saw her tweet as a serious threat.
"The Lake campaign has made absolutely clear that they do not think of education as a public service mission," Young said. "I think if she were elected, we would see a Lake administration trying to put in hard-right ideologues on the Arizona Board of Regents, which is the institution that should insulate Arizona's public universities from that kind of political pressure, but Lake made her indication that she would weaponize it to serve her ideological agenda."
In an emailed statement, Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, supported the concerns of ASU faculty.
"The idea that a public university and a public radio station must make decisions that please the government — or risk having a candidate for governor threaten to come in and "clean up shop" —
undermines the autonomy needed for public institutions in a democracy," Mulvey said. "This inappropriate threat of political interference has no place in public higher education. Arizona PBS appears to be attempting to provide voters with as much information as they can about the candidates."
Paul Bender, professor of law and dean emeritus for the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, questioned Lake’s ability to carry out her threats.
"I wonder what power she thinks she has," said Bender. "I don't think she studies things very carefully before she opens her mouth."
Bender elaborated on the power Lake would, or would not have if she was elected as governor of Arizona.
"She might be successful in persuading the Board of Regents to do something which she wants them to do or successful in persuading even Dr. Crow or the other university presidents," he said. "But as far as legal control, like 'I want you to fire that professor, or I don't want you to promote that professor' or things like that, she has basically no control."
Bender emphasized that the Arizona Board of Regents is independent of the governor’s office and that Lake would have no legal power over its activity.
"They have a term of years that they serve, so the only way she would control what happens at the university would be to try to get the Board of Regents to do something. And I don't think they would have liked what she's talking about getting rid of Crow," Bender said.
Lake's tweet was in response to Crow’s emailed statement to the Arizona Agenda.
"There is no policy level decision here at my level regarding the debate… But I did indicate that we need to continue to fulfill our mission of unbiased and non-partisan coverage of public figures and talk to important people in the public realm like Lake and Hobbs to have the public learn of their views, even if there is no debate," Crow said.
ASU faculty were very concerned, regardless of the legal power Lake may have, about the repercussions of such language.
"I saw Lake’s comments in that tweet, first of all, as a kind of nonsensical attack on President Crow, but I see them very much as a piece now of a rising national Republican movement, in the words of Chris Rufo, to 'lay siege to the institutions of democratic higher education,' that make our democracy run," said Young.
Aviña emphasized why these comments must be taken seriously by University leadership.
"All it takes is for one person to misinterpret, or to accurately interpret, what she's saying and then take it to a logical, extreme conclusion and then, attack the university in some horrific way," he said.
The State Press reached out to Lake's campaign to clarify her statements on cleaning house at ASU and did not receive a response.
Edited by Reagan Priest, David Rodish, Sophia Balasubramanian and Grace Copperthite.
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Rishab is a Politics Reporter at the State Press and a junior studying Political Science. He is also an assistant director with the Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention and an assistant editor for the Realist Review.