A large group of influential scholars, academics, and thought leaders have announced that they will be founding an institution of higher education called the University of Austin (UATX) as a response to what its founders view as the failure of the current higher education system in America to become truly centers of intellectual pursuit of the truth or as places where intellectual dissent is protected.
Bari Weiss, a conservative journalist who resigned from the New York Times protesting the lack of intellectual diversity, is one of its founding members and argued that the new University of Austin will be a response to the failure of legacy universities to right themselves.
The project will be supported by a large group of thinkers and intellectuals, with people like renowned British Historian Niall Ferguson, Harvard professor Arthur Brooks, Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, former New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari, Professor Glenn Loury, British philosopher Kathleen Stock, being part of the founder faculty members of the university.
According to the university’s main website, the foundational principle of the institution is a “The University of Austin is a liberal arts university committed to freedom of inquiry, freedom of conscience, and civil discourse.” Furthermore, the university highlights that it will maintain fierce political, financial, and intellectual independence.
Legacy universities have become increasingly biased and toxic
Niall Ferguson, one of the most influential figures behind the formation of the University of Austin, has argued that the current climate in the most prestigious higher education institutions in America has become unacceptable, with campuses fostering a climate where dissent is not accepted and where academic freedom itself is at stake.
In an article published at Bloomberg, Niall Ferguson argues that “something is rotten in the state of academia” and that the combination of an “erosion of academic freedom” and illiberal ideologies (like “wokeism”) has led to a “pervasive climate of anxiety and self-censorship”. For Ferguson, the widespread introduction in the academic world of terms and practices like “antiracism”, “safe spaces”, “trigger warnings”, and “microaggressions” are “part of a sustained campaign to impose ideological conformity in the name of diversity”, with the British historian saying that, paradoxically, it appears that American campuses have less free speech and free thought than other institutions.
The data seems to back Ferguson’s claims, an article published by the American Enterprise Institute shows that left-leaning faculty members greatly outnumber conservative professors, with over 60% of faculty considering themselves in the ideological left compared to 12% who call themselves conservatives, according to a study made by HERI institution. A study cited by Ferguson, made by the Heterodox Academy shows that 62% of college students think that the current climate in their colleges prevents them from expressing their ideas.
The data is not the only evidence cited to prove that universities have become a place where some ideas are not to be talked about, with Bari Weiss citing the example of the decision by MIT to uninvite Dorian Abbot, a scientist in the University of Chicago, from giving a lecture on climate change due to his views against affirmative action.
The University of Austin intends to fundamentally change the higher education system
While the founding members of the University of Austin have made a big emphasis on ensuring that freedom of inquiry will be respected, their plan is to address what they consider are the structural problems that current universities have, which they argue have been responsible for the current status of American academia.
One of the central features of the plan is to create a new financial model for higher education institutions, focusing heavily on academics rather than on “extraneous services” like student affairs and athletics. The University of Austin plans financial model plans to reverse “high ed’s lopsided priorities of building up a bureaucracy at the cost of instruction”, a bureaucracy that Ferguson points out as one of the key reasons of propelling tuition costs, which have gone, in four-year institutions, from $12,811 in 1985-86 to $28,123 in 2018-19 after adjusting for inflation.
The University will begin next year, by creating a summer program called “forbidden courses” where the faculty and students will discuss “provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship”. The next step would be to being a Master’s program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership in the Fall of 2022, then establishing other Master’s programs in Politics & Applied History, and Education & Public Service in 2023, with the final objective of the university of establishing a four-year undergraduate program by Fall 2024.
The founders of UATX have said that they are aware of the challenges their new institution will face, with Weiss saying they expect the network of donors, foundations, activists, students, and parents who expect to maintain the status quo, however, Weiss says UATX will “welcome their opprobrium and will regard it as a vindication”.