The University of Austin – A refreshing return to classic liberalism

At the University of Austin the emphasis will be on academic training, not political propaganda or ideological indoctrination. Photo Credit: University of Austin. 

Beginning in 2021, an eclectic group of scholars, journalists, academians, philanthropists, and those who had enjoyed business success began to lay the groundwork for a new university. The names include a who’s who of thinkers and intellectuals from diverse political, religious, and cultural backgrounds, including Richard Dawkins, Robert George, Niall Ferguson, Jonathan Haidt, Larry Summers, Bari Weiss, and Andrew Young. The insufferable attack on free speech, the insupportable practices of DEI indoctrination, and the incomprehensible application of new social theories drove these high achievers from different specialties and circumstances to find common ground in founding a new institution of higher learning. 

The home page of the university’s website makes two things clear – dare to think, and The University of Austin (UATX) is dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth.  The ideas are hardly new. Most universities have prized these mantras for centuries. In the blink of an eye, however, these rock-solid virtues disappeared, in some cases, overnight. What happened? What replaced the timeless virtues of the intellectual pursuit of truth? 

I remember reading Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) as a young teacher and hoping to avoid the problem that Bloom eloquently described. As a philosopher, Bloom had watched critical thinking disappear because of what he termed moral relativism. Recalling my own experience in university, I paused to realize I had narrowly missed being swept up in this effort to sanitize Western history and thought. 

Beginning my studies in 1981, I had to take the standard courses required for all liberal arts freshmen. Among these was the history of Western Civilization, meaning I had to read Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Paine and the great thinkers who helped found a democratic society. Bloom’s book pointed out that most of these writers’ works disappeared from introductory university courses in favour of books committed to new and developing theories. Bloom knew something was amiss, but he could have never imagined how far into the weeds universities would go to satisfy social theory, ethnic complaints, or minority injustices. 

The UATX seeks to address this shortcoming. The website’s opening page clarifies this: “The University of Austin prepares thoughtful and ethical innovators, builders, leaders, and citizens through fair-minded open inquiry and sustained civil discourse.” What many established universities claim to be doing, UATX intends to fulfill. 

The origins of many of today’s most prestigious universities, especially those that make up the coveted Ivy League, began as institutions committed to theology, the Queen of the Sciences in the seventeenth century. An honest review of Harvard’s history finds the university bathed in scripture on its buildings, filled with references to Christianity in its founding documents, and dedicated to ensuring its students knew the God of the Bible and Jesus His Son. Turning its back on these early principles, Harvard and other elite universities have become oppositional to their foundational ideals, even repudiating most of what once defined the faculty’s mission and the student’s purpose. 

Abandoning their birthright, the governing bodies at Harvard and like-minded schools, have chosen to embrace social justice, promote DEI theory, and pursue progressive academics. The appointment of Claudine Gay and her disastrous appearance before a Congressional Hearing earlier this year further justified the University of Austin’s decision to set up shop and compete for a market Harvard and its allies no longer seek. 

The University of Austin’s (UATX) five-page pithy constitution lays out very traditional and clear expectations, plainly stating its position on several hot-button issues that have dragged down our best institutions of higher learning. In its “Bill of Rights Section 2,” the UATX promises: “All decisions regarding admissions at UATX shall be made based on demonstrated academic capability and capacity for creativity or leadership. Due weight shall be given to standardized tests, performance in public examinations, and other empirical measures of aptitude. All decisions regarding graduation from UATX shall be made on the basis of academic achievement and demonstrated capacity for creativity or leadership. At the margin, admissions decisions may take into account individual circumstances, and the contributions that individuals may make to the class as a whole. But admission and graduation decisions shall be made strictly without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or religious faith.” Article 3 promises the same thing regarding the hiring of faculty and staff. 

The fact that these are no longer standard expectations at universities explains why UATX has drawn much interest and deserves an examination. The constitutions at the traditional universities, written hundreds of years ago, are often lengthy and describe several philosophical tenets fit for the time. As these constitutions were modified or new ones were added for student unions or varied schools of study, lengthier and modern ideas seeped into the bylaws. With the advent of affirmative action came new regulations and legal ramifications, the setting the universities once sought to create became rife with politics, funding issues, and a neutralized ability to enforce rigorous academic expectations without inviting claims of racial insensitivity or welcoming protests of intolerance. 

During COVID many universities abandoned standardized testing because the tests were thought to marginalize minority experiences and advantage white students. Recently, campuses have become breeding grounds for new and fashionable antisemitic practices and chants as Palestinian sympathizers shout epithets that would have never been allowed just a few years ago. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) departments have worked hard to avoid these distractions, but examples of weird ideas have also found their way into these areas of study. 

Stanley Goldfarb, writing in the Free Press, reported: “Five years ago I was associate dean of curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and prior to that, codirector of its highly regarded kidney division. Around that time, Penn’s vice dean for education started to advocate that we train medical students to be activists for ‘social justice.’ The university also implemented a new ‘pipeline program,’ allowing ten students a year from HBCUs (historically black colleges or universities) to attend its med school after maintaining a 3.6 GPA but no other academic requirement, including not taking the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). And the university has also created a project called Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project (PMAS) in order to ‘reshape medical education. . . by creating social justice-informed medical curricula that use race critically and in an evidence-based way to train the next generation of race-conscious physicians.’ Finally, twenty clinical departments at the medical school now have vice chairs for diversity and inclusion.” 

At UATX the emphasis will be on academic training, not political propaganda or ideological indoctrination. The university stands upon three basic ideals. The first is the fearless pursuit of truth. On its website page declaring what makes UATX different, this section states: “AT UATX, we recognize the existence of truth. We seek truth so we may flourish.” Notice it does not say, our truth, my truth or any other variation. The idea of pursuing truth seems refreshing in an age of moral relativism.

Secondly, the site reinforces the pursuit of academic freedom as one resting on seeking information: “We believe a university is a place for intellectual exploration and the advancement of knowledge. At UATX, students, faculty, and scholars have the right to pursue their academic interests and deliberate freely, without fear of censorship or retribution.” This might mean that preconceived notions could be opposed. It could be that information in mass media may be challenged. In other words, at UATX, solidly researched ideas will have a forum, be welcomed, discussed and aired in open dialogue. No prejudicial applications are made because it bumps against mainstream thinking. The old-style debate of ideas will have a home. 

Finally, UATX will be the residence for a liberal education. Its third pillar reads as follows: “We believe great works are not antiquated relics but guides toward intellectual liberation. Our educational approach seeks to free the mind from ephemeral dogmas and biases, to place before it the fundamental questions of human existence, and to open it to enduring sources of truth and meaning.” This beautifully crafted statement strikes at the heart of modern education and its attachment to untested and current thinking that has overtaken centuries of thought in what seems like hours. The pendulum was due to swing back after the last several years of mindless and thoughtless initiatives built on a house of lies, wishes, and false theories. Thanks to UATX and its founders, the truth may once again matter in the halls of learning. For more information visit https://www.uaustin.org/.

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