On her popular Substack this week, Bari Weiss announced a new university that she has spearheaded, committed to “freedom of inquiry, freedom of conscience, and civil discourse.”
We got sick of complaining about how broken higher education is. So we decided to do something about it.
Announcing a new university dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth: @uaustinorg:https://t.co/ZqRLXcF2n0
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) November 8, 2021
According to its website, the liberal arts enterprise will be dedicated to “the fearless pursuit of truth,” with its primary founders being critical of the direction of traditional academic institutions over the last few decades.
The advisory board has past and present university presidents, including Harvard’s Larry Summers, the University of Chicago’s Robert Zimmer, New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, and West Virginia University’s E. Gordon Gee. Former American Enterprise Institute president and Harvard professor Arthur Brooks, along with playwright David Mamet, are also among its founders.
The serious venture is called The University of Austin and was officially unveiled Monday by co-founder Pano Kanelos, who resigned as president of St. John’s College in Maryland to help launch the institution.
One common thread among the founders — many of whom come from the Intellectual Dark Web, is a rejection of “cancel culture,” self-censorship, wokeness, and the way moral and political concerns are edging out inquiry as a focus on campus. That’s been a good start to attract committed students and faculty, as well as media attention.
They expect resistance, with Kanelos noting: “There are networks of donors, foundations, and activists that uphold and promote the status quo. There are parents who expect the status quo. There are students who demand it, along with even greater restrictions on academic freedom. And there are administrators and professors who will feel threatened by any disruption to the system. We welcome their opprobrium and will regard it as vindication.”
Related: Look What Happened When a Professor Questioned His University’s Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Efforts
With many small colleges seeing tough times ahead, the endeavor is undoubtedly risky. But Kanelos says he’s received more than 1,000 requests from professors to participate, which he believes indicates the desire for this type of school.
Its initial offerings include a summer program on “forbidden” ideas, to be followed by a graduate course in “Entrepreneurship and Leadership,” and finally by undergraduate instruction by 2024. The centerpiece of the undergraduate program is a two-year humanities sequence, after which students will join with professionally-themed “academic centers.”
At present, the organization has no physical campus and only a fraction of the $250 million it hopes to raise.
“This is not a conservative university,” Portland State University Prof. Peter Boghossian told Fox News Tuesday, explaining how “maniacs” in Oregon caused him to become a founding member in Austin. “This has people from all over the spectrum…They can’t stand pretending to believe something that not only do they not believe, they just know it is false, but they can’t do anything about it lest they receive accusations of bigotry or discrimination.”
Is there a place for this model?
A level-headed analysis by Tufts Professor David Drezner in the Washington Post notes that comparisons from execrable bigots like Nikole-Hannah Jones to the short-lived Trump University are “both unkind and unfair.”
“I wish UATX good luck,’ Drezner concluded. “I like a world with more universities than fewer ones. It remains somewhat uncertain, however, whether this fledgling project will come anywhere close to its stated purpose.”
For now, the left and its media are confused and therefore looking for lazy ways to discredit the endeavor — either by calling Weiss, a lifelong liberal, “polarizing,” or searching for past “controversial” statements to hurt the incoming faculty.
These are probably the kind of censorious actions that caused the birth of The University of Austin.