On November 8, 2021, Bari Weiss's Substack newsletter announced the formation of a new college: the University of Austin. Conveniently not to be confused with UT Austin, an actual university, this as-yet-unaccredited university is different from other liberal arts colleges, because it's about truth and real education and free speech or whatever banal platitudes the anti-wokist profiteers are cheering on this week.
Much like the infamous "Harper's Letter" on Cancel Culture, the University of Austin's mission statement presents itself as a bold and defiant while offering little more than vague rhetoric which is, on its surface, hardly disagreeable. Like this:
We're reclaiming a place in higher education for freedom of inquiry and civil discourse. Our students and faculty will confront the most vexing questions of human life and civil society. We will create a community of conversation grounded in intellectual humility that respects the dignity of each individual and cultivates a passion for truth.
Our curriculum is being designed in partnership not only with the world's great thinkers but also with its great doers—visionaries who have founded bold ventures, artists and writers of the highest order, pioneers in tech, and the leading lights in engineering and the natural sciences. Students will apply their foundational skills to practical problems in ﬁelds such as entrepreneurship, public policy, education, and engineering.
Thinkers and Doers?! At a university?! What will they think of next?!
As for the team of revolutionary founders behind this very revolutionary non-degree-offering university, well, I think Today in Tabs summed it up most perfectly:
It will be headed by former St. John's College president Pano Kanelos, is currently under the financial stewardship of Palantir co-founder and alleged violent rapist Joe Lonsdale and the intellectual stewardship of some Bloomberg contributors, and has so far released a teaser trailer. The University of Austin promises to be so committed to free inquiry that it will not even commit itself to free inquiry, and this summer it plans to offer undergraduates "The Forbidden Courses," which will eventually transfer credits in full to your major in Hard R Studies. Regrettably, we will probably still be talking about this tomorrow.
There are some noted academics on the school's roster who aren't entirely terrible, though it's also not clear what, exactly, their involvement is.
Although the university is not currently accredited or offering any degrees, they say they are "working on it" and have the connections to speed up the accreditation process in order to reach their ambitious plans to launch graduate programs in Entrepreneurship and Leadership in 2022, graduate programs in "Politics & Applied History" and "Education & Public Service" (which both sound like propaganda mills to me!) in 2023, and finally establish an undergraduate college in 2024.
That undergraduate program is also definitely going to be different from other colleges:
The first two years of study will consist of an intensive liberal arts curriculum, including the study of philosophy, literature, history, politics, economics, mathematics, the sciences, and the fine arts. The College will feature an immersive, in-depth and personalized learning experience with interdisciplinary breadth.
Look, there are absolutely problems with higher education in this country. But starting a non-profit think tank disguised as a college where you can just indoctrinate people with a wholly unoriginal set of elite centrist ideologies will not do anything to change the institutional issues or cultural reckonings happening on campuses across the country. (PS: those are two very separate things, and you don't solve or end or even address them both by conflating the two into one big boogeyman of Faux-Marxist Brouhaha.)
We Can't Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We're Starting a New One. [Pano Kanelos / Common Sense with Bari Weiss]