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Arizona Republican lawmakers again threaten public universities with budget cuts

At their final hearing on so-called free speech issues at Arizona’s public universities, Republican lawmakers again threatened the schools with budget cuts.

GOP lawmakers like Sen. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) have for months alleged that Arizona State University discouraged conservatives from speaking at two events – even though both events took place on campus as scheduled. 

A conservative donor pulled his funding from the school, and ASU then fired an employee who brought in conservative speakers. That employee told lawmakers at previous hearings she was being punished for her conservative views, but school officials said they just couldn’t afford to keep her on.

On Thursday, Kern said budget cuts are in order for all three public universities, but reserved his sharpest criticism for  Michael Crow, ASU's president.

“I think the only way we can get to them is through their pocketbook. You have the ivory tower Michael Crow who to me is an absolute disaster. He thinks the founding fathers made a mistake because they didn’t include climate change in the constitution. Dude, climb off your ivory tower,” Kern said.

Cuts in this year’s state budget are imminent, as lawmakers look to balance a more than 400 hundred million dollar shortfall. But Senate Democratic leader Mitzi Epstein called the committee an “echo chamber” and said her caucus doesn’t support cutting the budget of public universities. 

The Republicans on the committee said they want to pass legislation to ensure that free speech policies apply to university faculty and staff, that universities enforce their policy statements, that students are assured their grades won’t be affected by their speech and that the Arizona Board of Regents does their part to oversee the schools. 

A spokesperson for ASU said Thursday the university “currently adheres to the policy recommendations being proposed by the joint ad-hoc legislative committee and will continue to do so.”

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.