In November of last year, a group of top minds surveyed the higher education landscape and asked themselves, “Can we actually claim that the pursuit of truth—once the central purpose of a university—remains the highest virtue? Do we honestly believe that the crucial means to that end—freedom of inquiry and civil discourse—prevail when illiberalism has become a pervasive feature of campus life?”
We read almost everyday about a professor at some university or another ostracized because he asked the wrong questions or reached the wrong conclusions. Harvard canceled a brilliant black professor and “genius” grant recipient after he concluded the data shows no racial bias in police shootings. Yale Law students shouted down a panel discussion on free speech. After a tenured professor at Princeton publicly dissented from faculty so-called “antiracism” demands, the university fired him for a supposed offense he committed 15 years ago and for which he was already punished.
If you think universities permit the pursuit of truth, if you think they’re committed to “light and liberty,” you’re nuts.
So this group of top minds decided to do something a little wild – they founded their own college, the University of Austin (UATX). Who’s involved? Current and former university presidents, including Larry Summers. Ivy League professors, including historian Niall Ferguson. Against-the-grain thinkers, including Andrew Sullivan and Bari Weiss. And more.
They’ve raised $100 million since November and received inquiries from 3,500 faculty around the country.
Will they succeed? We don’t know. But given the sum they’ve raised, and the stature of the people involved in the project, they’ve proven that many believe what their eyes see and their ears hear: Higher education is quickly becoming an illiberal cesspool of groupthink and censorship.
Meanwhile, at UNC-Chapel Hill, the journalism school is attacking diversity of thought because “there is a fundamental conflict between efforts to promote racial equity…and efforts to promote diversity of thought.” The public health school put in writing that it premises hiring and tenure decisions on performance in social justice trainings. UNC-Chapel Hill may be a lot of things, but its own written plans show it’s not dedicated to the free and open pursuit of truth.
Who knows how long it will be until higher education reclaims its purpose. In the meantime, we wish projects like UATX, which embrace dissent and diversity of thought, the best of luck.