A group of former university administrators, professors, authors, and entrepreneurs is seeking to challenge the American higher education system, founding a university dedicated to freedom of thought and academic diversity.
In an op-ed for the New York Post Monday, venture capitalist and co-founder of Palantir Technologies Joe Lonsdale introduced the University of Austin, a new university attempting to reclaim the academic rigor and prestige of the American university. Lonsdale opened his column by explaining that American universities had significantly deteriorated from the achievements they made in the 20th century. “Our universities drove scientific progress, pursued truth, and cultivated an intellectually courageous and competent elite,” Lonsdale wrote. “They helped make the United States the most innovative, prosperous and powerful nation in history.”
“But today, our universities are failing to live up to that legacy.”
Lonsdale blames two factors for this. First, he says institutional structures have hampered university achievement by turning specialization into hyperspecialization, allowing scholars to close off their work to scrutiny, and the abandonment of enlightenment values in favor of “uniformity of viewpoint.” Second, he attributes “new ideologies of intolerance that order subservience and quash those who think differently” to the decline.
“The combined effect of these structural and cultural problems is that the elite universities aren’t attracting the best talent as often, nor producing the type of leaders we need,” Lonsdale wrote.
But in the face of these challenges, there is an opportunity to build, Lonsdale continues.
“It is possible today, for the first time in generations, to build a new university to compete with top schools — one that attracts the most talented young people in the world and empowers them to pursue truth and innovation. We can, today, found a university that will prepare a new generation of leaders to think for themselves about all sides of an issue, speak truth to power, and take power back from ideologues.”
“The University of Austin is, at its heart, a project based on optimism. By getting the values, incentives, and interdisciplinary structure right from the beginning, we can restore the classically liberal university and the enlightenment values that made our civilization what it is. We can show off something so compelling that it inspires a revival of the values of free inquiry and pluralism, not just in one new university, but in hundreds of universities. And when we do, we can reclaim the civilizational achievements that come from the open competition of ideas.”
The prospective university’s board of advisors contains a number of prolific authors and academics. Among them are Pano Kanelos, former President of St. John’s College; Niall Ferguson, Historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker; New York Law School Professor and Former ACLU President Nadine Strossen; NYU Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt; Harvard University President Emeritus Larry Summers; playwright and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet; former New York Times columnists Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan; New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari; and The Atlantic writer Caitlin Flanagan.
Its inaugural faculty fellows include former Portland State philosophy professor Peter Boghossian and Hoover Institution Research Fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Organizers are reportedly in the process of securing land in the vicinity of Texas’ capital city.
The university lists its principles as the “unfettered pursuit of truth,” “freedom of inquiry,” “freedom of conscience,” and “civil discourse.” According to its website, the university plans to open a summer program in 2022, with further programs opening in 2022, 2023, and 2024.