T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development at Barrett, the Honors College was dissolved on June 30. The creator and main benefactor of the center is terminating funding, resulting in the center's closure.
The primary funder, Tom Lewis, who pledged an annual donation of $400,000 following a first-year donation of $800,000 in 2017, will no longer be financially supporting the center.
The center provided students enrolled in Barrett with innovative courses, workshops, and an engaging speaker series focused on self-awareness, personal values and character development.
Lewis, the founder, owner, and CEO of a real estate investment company, and his wife formed the T.W. Lewis Foundation in the year 2000. According to their website, the purpose of the T.W. Lewis Foundation is to "help children and families in need, impact youth through Christian education, support civic-minded causes in our community, strengthen America, and build God's kingdom."
The Lewis Foundation has repeatedly invested in higher education, including offering over 200 scholarships, as well as the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky along with their program at Barrett. The reason being, universities have "failed to prepare their students for the real world by avoiding absolute truths, promoting political biases and limiting free speech," according to the T.W. Lewis website.
The T.W. Lewis Center supports over 30 organizations, including the Conservative Partnership Institute, and the America First Policy Institute. A "non-profit, non-partisan" research group whose guiding principles include "liberty, free enterprise, national greatness," and "American military superiority."
Lewis told the Arizona Republic on June 20 that he pulled the funding because of the University's handling of the “Health, Wealth and Happiness event.” An event the center hosted that featured conservative activist Charlie Kirk, and conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager.
ASU has not announced a plan for how another Barrett personal development center will function without the donation.
"Barrett is figuring out how best to continue courses (and) programming without the external funding," an ASU spokesperson said in an email.
However, the ASU spokesperson did say that faculty members were able to remain in Barrett and Lewis Center classes will remain on the fall schedule.
The center's executive director, Ann Atkinson said she will no longer work for the University after June 30.
Atkinson claims she was fired from the University due to moderating and supporting the event that included controversial speakers, Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk, in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal. The claim was later denied by the University in an additional opinion in the Journal.
The “Health, Wealth and Happiness” event, on Feb. 8, was advertised as a way for students and community members to hear from a panel of experts in a variety of fields.
As of a day prior to the event, 39 members of the Barrett faculty had condemned hosting such controversial figures at Gammage in a petition addressed to Barrett Dean Tara Williams. Despite the petition, the event went on as planned.
The University said the opposition to the event was “not uncommon in a university setting.” Jenny Brian, Michael Ostling and Alex Trimble Young, three professors who opposed the event, wrote about the controversy in an opinion column in AZCentral.
“Like many other faculty members at Barrett, I was horrified and angered that the Barrett logo was plastered on the marketing material for the so-called "Health, Wealth, and Happiness" event,” said Ostling in an emailed statement. “But we never sought to have it canceled, nor did we discourage students from attending.”
Edited by Shane Brennan, Angelina Steel