Quid Pro Crow

ASU's president puts the squeeze on freedom of speech to please his biggest donor

During seven of the most frantic and festive days in the history of Arizona State University, a female nipple pierced with a 10-gauge barbell threw a wrench in President Michael Crow's week.

As news broke of ASU's first Nobel Prize winner in the university's 119-year history, the ASU community was reveling in another first -- hosting a presidential debate. And then, maybe even more monumental for the majority of the maroon-and-gold masses, the undefeated Sun Devils took on the nation's top-ranked college football team in the USC Trojans. And all of it happened in one glorious week in mid-October.

Meanwhile, Crow was busy putting out a fire. Or starting one, depending on your perspective.

Cameron Eickmeyer, editor of ASU's State Press, says he won't back down to Michael Crow.
Emily Piraino
Cameron Eickmeyer, editor of ASU's State Press, says he won't back down to Michael Crow.
Ira Fulton
Ira Fulton

The State Press, the on-campus, independently run student newspaper at ASU, published a story in the October 7 issue of its weekly supplement, State Press Magazine, about "extreme body modification" -- body piercing -- and how the procedure reportedly enhances some college students' sex lives. The story, headlined "Sensual Steel," featured a provocative black-and-white full-page cover photo of a curvaceous female breast pierced through the nipple.

Apparently, the magazine cover caught the eye of Ira Fulton, ASU's most generous donor. The founder of Tempe-based Fulton Homes has given $58 million to the university in the past year and a half, including a $3 million gift announced earlier this month. His first gift of $50 million in June 2003 spurred the renaming of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

The photo of a bare breast, erect nipple and all, on the cover of the student newspaper's weekly magazine, prompted Fulton to contact Crow's office directly to voice his displeasure, according to internal e-mails obtained by New Times. But rather than informing Fulton that the State Press, an ASU institution since 1890, was editorially independent of the university and that the administration had no right to dictate the paper's content, Crow reacted by ordering a subordinate to intimidate the State Press and its student editors -- threatening to sever all financial support for the newspaper, according to e-mails and State Press editor in chief Cameron Eickmeyer.

National experts who follow campus paper politics warn that yanking funding from a paper that displeases the administration would be a dangerous move, but Michael Crow is living dangerously these days.

Many members of the ASU community -- faculty and students alike -- are convinced that Crow is building his "new American university" on a foundation of academic fear.

And there's plenty of evidence.

According to more than a dozen interviews with faculty, students and university administrators, along with hundreds of pages of e-mails and correspondence New Times has obtained, Crow is compromising academic freedom and First Amendment rights in order to curry favor and entice wealthy donors into giving millions of dollars to the state's largest public university.

Whether it's keeping the Commission on Presidential Debates at bay, cowering to Fulton -- who also happens to be a George W. Bush elector in the Electoral College -- or coddling Fulton's fellow members of the Mormon church, Crow is obviously so determined to maintain such a controlled environment that he's trying to scare the campus of 55,000 into submission.

And that includes the university's free press.

After months of requesting interviews with Crow regarding a slew of issues, his communications specialist, Denise Quiroz, told New Times on November 2 that Crow's schedule would not allow an interview before press time. Crow replied to a personal letter delivered directly to his office, and an e-mail to Crow's private address, with a short response that mostly avoided the heart of the State Press controversy.

Fulton, meanwhile, declined New Times' request for an interview.

In Crow's two-plus years as ASU's president, his administration has expressed its discontent with the State Press on several occasions. But no one in the administration has come close to actually threatening to "kick the State Press off campus," as Crow did, through a subordinate.

(Even the subordinate, Juan Gonzalez, thought that was a bad idea, his e-mails reflect.)

But this latest instance of Crow's apparent disregard of First Amendment rights is no anomaly, particularly when it comes to currying favor with the group that's now emerging as Crow's most catered-to special interests -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons.

According to the faculty, students and administrative officials interviewed for this story, as well as public records New Times obtained, Crow is peddling ASU to the Mormon church and allowing a big donor like Fulton -- who's also given $50 million to Brigham Young University, becoming BYU's single biggest donor as well -- to have unbridled influence within taxpayer-funded ASU.


• This semester, ASU made available to more than 70 students what's called a "Healthy Living" environment at Mariposa Hall, which requires that students who live there must first vow to neither smoke, do drugs nor drink alcohol as a condition of residency, specifically to quiet Mormon church leaders' concerns over ASU's "party" image.

• In September, Crow agreed to swap state land on campus occupied by ASU's psychology department with the Mormons' privately owned LDS Institute of Religion, so that the church could build a parking lot and garage to go along with an expansion in the center of campus. Such a move would most seriously affect the department's Child Study Lab, where the lab's adjacent playground will be razed to make way for the LDS parking garage.

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