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Why All the Fuss Over the University of Austin?

AP Photo/Eric Gay

A motley crew of scholars, activists, and media figures are planning to create a brand-spanking new higher learning institution committed to creating an environment that promotes free speech and the expression of ideas free from the clutches of the censorious authoritarian left. These individuals have become dissatisfied “by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities.”

This new endeavor will be known as the University of Austin (UATX) and will have a soft launch next year with a program called “Forbidden Courses.” The noncredit course will provide a “spirited discussion about the most provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship in many universities,” according to the founders.

The university plans to expand to master’s programs and then undergraduate courses later. The campus will be located in Austin, Texas, and will include classes that will be taught in person.

Even though this particular project is still in its fledgling state, it has already gotten the attention of the leftist activist media, who isn’t too happy about the whole thing. Indeed, several outlets have published op-eds excoriating the initiative, predicting its inevitable failure and engaging in an impressive type of mental gymnastics to discredit the endeavor.

The Washington Post’s Daniel Drezner slammed Joe Lonsdale, one of the founders of the university, for pointing out in a New York Post op-ed that “Independent thinkers are repelled by intolerant and rigid intellectual environments.”

Drezner responded:

Agreed — which is why this new university ain’t going to be attracting any such thinkers. Given both Ferguson’s and Lonsdale’s ideological predilections, and given how their kindred spirits are behaving elsewhere, I do not see how anyone to the left of Larry Summers would get tenured by this board, regardless of their scholarship. If advisory board member Sohrab Ahmari is entrusted with similar power, then all bets are off.

The columnist concluded:

Based on these internal contradictions, as well as history, the University of Austin will probably fail to attract quality faculty or students beyond a narrow ideological slice. Then again, that might not be its true purpose.

Politico also published a piece in which it criticized the nascent institution and focused on how two high-profile members of its leadership recently resigned. Contributing editor Derek Robertson also attempted to argue the school’s objectives are contradictory:

The University of Austin’s explicitly stated ideological commitment is to a pluralistic, classically liberal freedom of expression. But as Zimmer and others have pointed out, the university’s project as constituted today rests on an inherently political critique of schools as they are. And for an intellectual vehicle so committed to diversity of thought that it can’t even exist in the current academic landscape, its affiliated thinkers comprise a near-monoculture in their own right: They’re nearly all icons of the same confrontational, non-“progressive” liberal rationalism.

Not to be outdone, MSNBC’s Katelyn Burns also chimed in on the matter, claiming this initiative is nothing more than a cancel culture grift. She contended that the new university is part of a supposed “cancel culture grift economy,” which is the notion that “there are certain social rewards that come with being canceled.”

She wrote:

It’s this attractiveness that helps cancel culture grifts pay off. There’s no universally agreed upon definition of “getting canceled” and it’s claimed for a wide variety of consequences for terrible speech or actions, from losing a job to getting doxxed to mild intellectual disagreement.

Burns suggested that “there appears to be no substance behind the allegedly academic effort” and that “none of the instructors are expected to produce research in their field.”

For folks who seem to believe that the University of Austin will be a failed endeavor, these media activists seem pretty concerned by the fact that it is even being suggested in the first place.

Methinks they doth protest too much.

If they truly believed that such an idea could never become a reality, there would not be so many op-eds and reports on it. The ones I’ve included in the article are just a few of the reports that the activist media has published on this particular endeavor.

The reality is that whether UATX becomes a thing or not, the idea that this type of project could actually take off would scare those on the hard left who have enjoyed supremacy over America’s higher learning institutions for decades. Progressives essentially have a monopoly over the ideas and ideologies that are being taught to college students across the country.

Regardless of whether UATX takes off, it is clear that there is an opportunity for those wishing to push back against leftist-dominated learning institutions and provide an alternative to the indoctrination taking place on many college campuses. It actually seems inevitable if this trend does not change.

If and when this idea develops into a brick-and-mortar facility where students can learn without being indoctrinated, it will likely cause a furor on the hard left that is far more pronounced than what we are seeing right now.