The University of Austin, a private liberal arts school, is planning to open soon in the state’s capital and will be dedicated to “the fearless pursuit of truth” in response to what some perceive as a culture of censorship on college campuses. But it still needs accreditation, a physical location, and an undergraduate program.
According to the school’s website, Scholars, activists and entrepreneurs teamed up to start the university, to be known as UATX, because they were “alarmed by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities and what it augurs for the country.
Pano Kanelos, the incoming president of the University of Austin said, “So much is broken in America. But higher education might be the most fractured institution of all.”
He announced the nonprofit university’s creation Monday in former New York Times journalist Bari Weiss’ newsletter, who is also one of its founders. Kanelos is the former president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, a small, private liberal arts school.
Kanelos wrote Self-censorship is pervasive across colleges and universities because the institutions “chill speech and ostracize those with unpopular viewpoints” and “lead scholars to avoid entire topics out of fear.”
“At our most prestigious schools, the primary incentive is to function as finishing school for the national and global elite. Amidst the brick and ivy, these students entertain ever-more-inaccessible theories while often just blocks away their neighbors figure out how to scratch out a living,
“It’s not just that we are failing students as individuals; we are failing the nation, Our democracy is faltering, in significant part, because our educational system has become illiberal and is producing citizens and leaders who are incapable and unwilling to participate in the core activity of democratic governance.” Kanelos said.
The university’s announcement garnered national attention for its team of journalists, artists, philanthropists, researchers, and higher education leaders involved in the project.
“Universities are the places where society does its thinking, where the habits and mores of our citizens are shaped. If these institutions are not open and pluralistic, if they chill speech and ostracize those with unpopular viewpoints, if they lead scholars to avoid entire topics out of fear, if they prioritize emotional comfort over the often-uncomfortable pursuit of truth, who will be left to model the discourse necessary to sustain liberty in a self-governing society
“At some future point, historians will study how we arrived at this tragic pass. And perhaps by then we will have reformed our colleges and universities, restoring them as bastions of open inquiry and civil discourse. But we are done waiting. We are done waiting for the legacy universities to right themselves. And so we are building anew?” Kanelos added.
Kanelos said the Austin campus will be designed for in-person learning: “It will surely seem retro — perhaps even countercultural — in an era of massive open online courses and distance learning to build an actual school in an actual building with as few screens as possible. But sometimes there is wisdom in things that have endured.”
He listed a roster of names supporting the new college, noting that they do not think in lockstep.
Kanelos said, “Our project began with a small gathering of those concerned about the state of higher education — Niall Ferguson, Bari Weiss, Heather Heying, Joe Lonsdale, Arthur Brooks, and I — and we have since been joined by many others, including the brave professors mentioned above, Kathleen Stock, Dorian Abbot and Peter Boghossian, Our backgrounds and experiences are diverse; our political views differ. What unites us is a common dismay at the state of modern academia and a recognition that we can no longer wait for the cavalry. And so we must be the cavalry”
Kanelos said the goal of the college is to focus on the truth wherever it leads.
He wrote, “An education rooted in the pursuit of truth is the antidote to the kind of ignorance and incivility that is everywhere around us”
Noting that scoffing is expected, Kanelos shrugged it off.
The University of Austin is a fictional college from the movie Road Trip. pic.twitter.com/HHNjMGiMxX
— Colt Smith (@FootballExpert) November 8, 2021
“We welcome their opprobrium and will regard it as vindication, To the rest — to those of you who share our sense that something fundamental is broken — we ask that you join us in our effort to renew higher education.” He wrote.