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How’s the University of Austin Coming? It’s Actually Happening

The “intellectual freedom” university continues to take shape in a world of “death to free speech”

A very cautious article at Chronicle of Higher Education about the University of Austin fills in the rest of us. U Austin has come a long way since it was mocked at The New Republic as allegedly seeking to be “higher education’s premier institution of monetizing moral panics.”

A couple of observations from senior Chronicle writer Tom Bartlett:

The pioneer faculty have the money to get started:

Chatter aside, the University of Austin is starting to take shape in the year since its raucous rollout. Curriculum is being developed. The accreditation process is underway. A deal for land in the greater Austin area is being hammered out. The university has lured several professors away from other universities and plans to announce more hires in coming weeks. And then there’s the fund raising: Kanelos says the university is about halfway to its quarter-billion-dollar goal. More than 50 of the university’s roughly 1,400 donors have made at least a six-figure donation, and 20 or so have made seven- or eight-figure contributions. In the first two weeks of August alone, UATX, as it’s known, reportedly pulled in around $15million. Not bad for a university that doesn’t quite exist.

Tom Bartlett, “A Controversial College Takes Shape” at Chronicle of Higher Education (November 2, 2022)

And the proposed faculty? Former president of St. John’s College, Pano Kanelos, is recruiting:

Among the new hires is Charles W. Calomiris, who will direct the Center for Politics, Economics, and Applied History. Calomiris currently holds an endowed professorship in the business school at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1996. Why leave a prestigious university for an operation that doesn’t have any students yet? Calomiris says he’s intrigued by the prospect of trying something new, and he’s also very unhappy with the state of free speech on university campuses, including his own. He sought out the role at UATX even though it will mean fewer resources and a substantial pay cut. “I have friends across the political spectrum who are staying where they are despite the fact that they’re experiencing real pain,” Calomiris says. “I don’t want to just use the word ‘disagreement.’ What’s going on in American universities is a source of pain.”

Tom Bartlett, “A Controversial College Takes Shape” at Chronicle of Higher Education (November 2, 2022)

Kanelos, a Shakespeare scholar, offers,

The reality is that many universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized. 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…

The warped incentives of higher education—prestige or survival—mean that an increasing proportion of tuition dollars are spent on administration rather than instruction. Universities now aim to attract and retain students through client-driven “student experiences”—from trivial entertainment to emotional support to luxury amenities. In fact, many universities are doing extremely well at providing students with everything they need. Everything, that is, except intellectual grit.

Pano Kanelos, “We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One.” at Common Sense (November 8, 2021)

Well, if University of Austin can attract students who want to learn to think, it may well stand out in the present environment.

You may also wish to read:

Students: Free speech should sometimes result in death penalty. An open mind is apparently no longer valued at universities, the way it used to be. Kids who go to the U instead of trade school these days may not become worldly cynics so much as avid persecutors of all points of view other than their own.


Historian supports new anti-Cancel Culture university. Niall Ferguson hopes that the new University of Austin will unite traditional wisdom with new technology in a spirit of free enquiry. At COSM 2021, he noted that proposed faculty had spent the last 48 hours dealing with a tidal wave of Twitter hate. So, he said, they are over the target…

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How’s the University of Austin Coming? It’s Actually Happening