Is there hope for higher education? If so, it will be found at the University of Austin (UATX).
In an email shared with Minding the Campus yesterday, Pano Kanelos, formerly dean of Christ College, the Honors College of Valparaiso University, and now founding president of UATX, gave news of “officially announcing the launch of America’s newest university.”
According to the email, UATX is dedicated to nurturing a new generation of American leaders, emphasizing qualities like grace, determination, and gratitude in its students who are driven to innovate and create.
Its founders—among them Bari Weiss, Niall Ferguson, Joe Lonsdale, and, of course, Pano Kanelos—believe that understanding history is crucial for shaping a better future and asserts that institutions of higher education in a democratic society have a unique responsibility to promote dialogue and a commitment to the common good.
To UATX, the primary purpose of higher education is to uncover, convey, and safeguard knowledge, “and to fulfill these ends, universities must remain committed to open inquiry, intellectual pluralism, freedom of conscience, and civil discourse.”
Students, for example, will spend their first one to two years examining “(among other subjects) the foundations of civilization and political life; the importance of law, virtue, order, beauty, meaningful work and leisure, and the sacred; the unique vibrancy of the American form of government and way of life; and the character and consequences of ideological tyranny,” according to UATX’s curriculum description.
Albeit, UATX is far from the norm.
As the National Association of Scholars revealed in its “The Vanishing West” report, Western civilization courses began disappearing from colleges and universities in the 1960s. Most students do not encounter any classes about the history of American life, let alone the opportunity to appreciate it.
If college students learn anything about America, it is something similar to the 1619 Project—a famous yet entirely factless curriculum that boils all of American history down to its supposed vices: racism, slavery, and capitalism.
That narrative will not echo in the lecture halls of UATX, however. Freedom “from any pressure to adopt intellectual fads or to participate in partisan activism” is yet another commitment of UATX.
Look no further than at current events to understand that such a commitment is not normal. In fact, campus-normal is when students rally for Hamas or when professors take scissors to anti-hostage posters.
Watch Dr. Mohammed Alghamdi, a physician & prof @Penn, help rip down posters of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas — he even has his own scissors with him. WATCH (5 seconds into the video) https://t.co/d83XXHZX5p pic.twitter.com/fycHGupJLs
— Canary Mission (@canarymission) November 6, 2023
But I am not the only one interested in UATX.
Its commitment to free inquiry and academic freedom resonates with educators, students, parents, and donors across the country—the nearly $200 million raised from numerous contributors is evidence of that. UATX has also already seen success with graduate, undergraduate, and high school programs, attracting over 500 students from various states and countries, as well as the interest of more than 6,000 professors from across the nation seeking teaching opportunities at UATX—a clear sign that educators are fed up with traditional colleges and universities.
However, the most exciting thing about this campus is its robust team of faculty and advisors. The talents leading UATX are not normal either.
Instead, UATX’s talents are “composed of hundreds of business, tech, political, creative, and academic leaders, who are enthusiastic about mentoring, offering internships and apprenticeships.”
Jonathan Haidt, known for his assertion that Gen Z faces challenges stemming from their social media usage, bad parenting, and a political ideology emphasizing victimhood, is one of those talents serving on UATX’s Board of Advisors. The board also has a seat for Arthur Brooks, who says happiness is found in faith, family, friends, and work, and also a seat for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, known for her critiques of Islamic fundamentalism.
These individuals are truth-tellers, unswayed by loose, pseudo-intellectual notions such as multiculturalism or hostility towards the West.
This is not normal—it is weird. But weird is what we need to rescue higher education.
Photo by Ryan Conine — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 217495023