The University of Austin is coming, but what is it?
Austin, Texas – A new university might be coming to town, and the public has valid questions and concerns.
Though the name might sound similar to that of its soon-to-be neighbor in the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, Kanelos claims the newly founded school will be far from similar to UT Austin, or any other university around the world for that matter.
Not only did Kanelos found the university alongside a "small gathering of those concerned about the state of higher education" – which includes former New York Times writer Bari Weiss and contributing editor of the American Conservative Sohrab Ahmari – he will also serve as the school's president.
In a guest post published on Common Sense, Kanelos argued that the current institution of higher education is full of "illiberalism", which refers to the general intolerance to one's opinions or prejudices.
According to Kanelos' guest post, the existence of illiberalism in higher education has created a culture of censorship on campuses around the world.
In the same article, Kanelos claims that, "Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences."
This is something Kanelos finds to be contradictory to the purpose of higher education, and an element that deters from students and professors pursuing the truth in its purest form.
"It turns out that fear can become endemic in a free society. It can become most acute in the one place – the university – that is supposed to defend 'the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable [sic]," Kanelos wrote.
An attempt to alter the status quo of higher education
Despite announcing the creation of the University of Austin, it seems the school itself hasn't handled the foundational measures required to open and run a new university.
For starters, there is no set location that's been decided upon for the school's campus, and they haven't acquired the necessary accreditations to host courses or offer degrees.
Additionally, the Texas Tribune reported the institution has yet to acquire nonprofit status from the federal government.
According to the Austin American Statesman, the university is currently seeking accreditation from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in addition to initial accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission. This process is said to take between one and seven years to complete.
One question in regard to the institution remains: what makes it different from the rest?
The website for the University of Austin boasts that it's, "Building a university dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth," which Kanelos stated will be done by eradicating the barrier between students and educators, so they are viewed as equals.
According to the site, those attending or working at the university, "Will confront the most vexing questions of human life and civil society."
This will be done by, "Creating a community of conversation grounded in intellectual humility that respects the dignity of each individual and cultivates a passion for truth."
The public reacts to the new founded university
Rather than feeling confined and unable to share their actual views on touchy matters – something Kanelos claims is a widespread issue amongst universities – students and faculty will be given a safe space to speak freely on "hot-button issues" without fear of censorship or reprimanding.
Despite Kamelos insightful words and tall promises, it's not exactly clear how the University of Austin plans to accomplish such a massive feat, and that's a point of concern for many.
In light of the announcement regarding the university's existence, a parody Twitter account was formed.
It seems as if this was done in part to joke about the efforts of those involved, while offering up sarcastic suggestions, like who might be a good fit to join the faculty, or where the university should be located, like Zilker Park.
But those behind the parody account aren't the only ones voicing their tongue-in-cheek concerns.
First Amendment and defamation lawyer Ari Cohn retweeted a post originally shared by one of the university's founding members in Ahmari, essentially questioning how the construct of the University of Austin will differ from any other higher education institution.
The original tweet by Ahmari read, "I told the founders that, standing in the ancient tradition of Catholic education, I don’t, in fact, believe that the university can or should enshrine mere free speech or free inquiry as its highest ideal. I was pleasantly surprised when they replied, 'That’s why we want you.'"
In response, Cohn uttered the thought that many likely share, tweeting, "They set out to create...literally the same thing that they say is broken?"
Academic and columnist Matt Gabriele also voiced his opinion of the newly founded institution on Twitter, writing, "I want to be extremely clear: anyone even vaguely associated with this 'University of Austin' thing should be mocked ceaslessly [sic]."
While the University of Austin hopes to launch its graduate programs in entrepreneurship and leadership in 2022, it's unclear how they plan to get the needed accreditations to do so in such a short amount of time.
Cover photo: IMAGO/Cavan Images